Pasadena ISD Robotics motors to success

PASADENA, TX "It feels great to have the team do as well as we did," said Grace Blasingame, a team mentor and teacher at Sam Rayburn High School. "The students, teachers and engineers put in many hours all after school to accomplish this."

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit, mentor-based program offering innovative opportunities for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

"High Voltage" competed against 84 other robot teams in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) portion of the national event, which is designed to help high school students discover how interesting and rewarding the life of engineers and researchers can be. The team made it into the quarter finals winning five of its seven matches. Its highest score was a 92. Overall, the national competition had 343 teams from across the country as well as from seven other countries competing in other fields including Tech Challenge and Lego League.

"High Voltage" has several functions and is broken into subgroups including the drive, programming, build, inventory, safety, AutoCAD, Web, communications, animation and spirit teams, and the pit crew.

"I feel really excited and can't wait to come back next year to help mentor," said the team's lead programmer and a Pasadena ISD senior Alexandria Heysquierdo. "The success is encouraging and makes me want to start another season right now."

FRC challenged the team and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard "kit of parts" and a common set of rules. The team, which is comprised of 22 Pasadena ISD students, built, designed and tested its robot from the parts. The team's sponsors and mentors include employees from Oceaneering Space Systems, LyondellBasell, United Space Alliance and four engineering students from the University of Houston.

"This competition is so challenging because there are so many 'right' choices, but figuring out which is the best is what makes you successful," Heysquierdo said. "The better solution you find, the better you do."

Although it didn't take first place, "High Voltage" did well as its success at this year's competition earned it a spot at next year's national event. Pasadena ISD's Robotics team has been invited to attend the national event every year since it started in 1997. "High Voltage" was also chosen by one of the top eight teams to join its alliance, which Blasingame said is also a great honor.

"Only the best robots get chosen as an alliance partner, which is a true honor that shows the capabilities of our team and our robot," she said. "We also feel honored to have been invited to attend the national event again next year. Our team has done very well."

Blasingame said the Robotics program is a great way to teach students what engineering is all about.

"From inventory control, to design to communication, to the final product being delivered on time, our students have an array of opportunities to learn about engineering and working together as a team," she said. "We only have six weeks, and we must document every aspect of the project. This program has encouraged many of our students to select engineering as a major in college. Last year alone, we had six students who went into engineering at major universities."

There was more to the national competition than robots. Teams had the opportunity to listen to former President George Bush, Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia and several CEOs from large corporations such as Boeing, Google, AutoDesk and others speak about what the talent of the competitors' means to the future of the country. Students also visited with colleges and universities at "scholarship row" and will possibly be getting scholarships and other opportunities.

"I enjoyed visiting the different colleges and universities," said team member Zachary Johnson. "It sounded like they had a lot to offer. I found a lot of colleges and universities that I had never heard of before."

Blasingame said she hopes her students learned a great deal about engineering, problem solving skills and how to work together as a team as well as what they want for their futures from this competition.

"Our hope for our country is that these talented students will choose a field that will allow them to help solve some of the world's issues," she said. "We must have more students willing to go into math, science and technology or our country will suffer from many ills. If we inspire just a few students to look to the future and what they can contribute to society, then we have done our job."

According to Heysquierdo, the Robotics program and competition has done just that.

"In robotics, you have to think your way out of the box," she said. "As students taking on such a time consuming and difficult task, it prepares us for real-world experiences. Life isn't always easy and things aren't going to fall into your lap. We are given a task, and we create the vision. And that is where it all begins."

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