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High school robotics team builds robots and character

Date: 3/15/2018

AGAWAM –With competition season in full swing, Agawam high school’s robotics team is working hard to earn a spot in the District Championships – with the hopes of making it to the World Championships in April.

On the weekend of Mar. 9 through Mar. 10, Agawam’s Rosie Robotics team competed against 40 high school teams – there are 209 in total within New England – at the Raynham High School in Bridgewater. The students showcased their robot, Rosie 17.0, which is designed to play the game “Power Up” in real-life. During the competition, two alliances of “video game characters” and their human operators are trapped in an arcade game-style arena. The robot alliances have to use “power cubes” to control switches, pass power cubes through an exchange for “power ups,” and eventually ascend the scale to face the “boss” in order to escape. Points are given throughout the game depending on the moves accomplished.

The team finished in 29th, but will have the opportunity to compete again in Hartford on Apr. 7 and Apr. 8 for a chance to fight in the district championships in Boston. The World Championships will take place in Detroit, MI, where the teams will battle for a global title.

Since its inception in 2002, Rosie Robotics has been part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) community, and competes in FIRST Robotics Competitions and FIRST Tech Challenge leagues. The team’s mission statement is to teach science, technology, engineering and math to “anyone willing to learn,” while FIRST strives to inspire students to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills and foster self-confidence, communication and leadership. There are currently 23  students on Agawam’s Robotics roster, each receiving a half a credit toward graduation per year.

“We’ve had kids graduate from this program to go on to become medical doctors, engineers, dental assistants, chefs, entrepreneurs and owners of companies,” said Co-Founder Dana Henry. “FIRST is not about building the robots, it’s about building the students. The machine is the tool to teach them time management skills, communication skills and the critical thinking skills it takes to thrive in today’s economy.”

The FIRST Robotics Competition pairs high school students with adult mentors – primarily engineers and teachers – to design and build robots that compete against one another in a high-energy environment. At the start of each year, a “Kickoff” event introduces the type of game the students will be required to compete in – such as this year’s game of Power Up.

The teams then endure a six-week building period, followed by a series of competitions. Under strict rules and limited resources, the students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills and build and program industrial-size robots. Each team receives the same box of parts, has the same rules, and is allowed to spend up to $4,000 on additional raw materials and machine services.  There are 3,600 teams – from around the U.S. and around the world – which compete against each other with the goal of being invited to the five-day World Championships.

Rosie has qualified for the World Championships three times, with the most recent being in 2016.

Agawam senior Brianna Gaynor is the non-technical co-captain of the team, and has participated in Rosie Robotics all four years.

“It gives insight into what the workforce is like, how to run a business and what engineering is really like,” she said. “It shows that, no matter what, we work together as a team and we fail together as team – and then we find a way around it.”

Gaynor told Reminder Publications she plans to utilize the skills she’s gained from Rosie Robotics to study pediatric radiology at the University of Hartford after she graduates.

While Henry is the co-founder of Rosie, he is also the president and CEO of the Agawam Robotics Education Association, a 501(c)(3) that helps to fund and organize the program. The team is also actively looking for more engineering mentors and sponsorships.  For more information on the Rosie team, head over to