RICHMOND, Va. — The Navy-mentored "Hornets" and "RoboJackets" joined 50 robotics teams — all with intriguing names — to compete at the FIRST Tech Challenge Virginia State Championship here Feb. 28.
The Orange County High School Hornets and James Monroe High School Robojackets team members were among 500 students cheered on by parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors at St. Christopher's School.
What’s more, the Hornets and 11 exotically named teams — ED Too, Geeks in Just their Underpants, Tuxedo Pandas, Heptahelix, Team Aperture, Techie Tornadoes, The Blockheads, The Bionic Tigers, Vertigo, Nerd Herd, and Evil Purple Sox — qualified for the FIRST Tech Challenge East Super-Regional Championship to be held in Scranton, Penn., March 19-21.
All student teams designed, built and programmed their own robots prior to competing against other teams at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) event.
"This is a superb effort for this team and what they represent," said Simon Gray, Assistant Program Manager for Mission Systems in the NAVSEA Electric Ships Office and Hornet team mentor. “Coming from a rural location, the team overcame significant challenges to access engineering resources. Thanks to a group of mentors with a gracious professional mindset, our team has become an inspiration to others and knows no bounds to their potential."
The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) sponsored teams advanced to the state championship by winning awards and robot performance categories at qualifying tournaments across Virginia throughout the competition season.
"Not only have NAVSEA guidance and the NDEP grant increased our team's awareness of Navy engineering, but the personal interaction with Navy civilians has promoted an understanding of engineering fundamentals,” said Gray. “It is immensely gratifying to witness the team spirit and see the smiles on all of the team members."
Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Commander, joined about 1,500 spectators at the event, inspiring students — ranging from sixth graders to high school seniors — in his opening remarks and as he engaged them in conversation.
“FIRST Tech Challenge is a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience in math, science and engineering,” said Selby. “Programs like FIRST Tech Challenge are absolutely critical in developing and inspiring our nation’s next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”
"The admiral said he had a blast," reported Marin Kobin, NSWC Dahlgren Division computer scientist who is the RoboJackets lead Navy mentor. "The students and spectators loved meeting and talking to Admiral Selby, and he clearly enjoyed getting to know the program, the teams, and the robots."
Kobin exudes enthusiasm as she talks about mentoring students participating in FIRST as a way to build students' science, engineering and technology skill — to inspire innovation and foster well-rounded life capabilities that include self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
"By exposing students to the FIRST program, we give them the skills and the resources to pursue college degrees or certificate programs," said Kobin, who personally benefitted from FIRST as a high school student in New York.
Kobin and Gray also help the students they mentor to develop critical thinking skills to solve a particular problem or series of problems by researching, designing, building and operating a robot. As mentors, they guide robotics team members to resolve issues on their own with a minimal amount of adult intervention.
They are among hundreds of NAVSEA mentors who volunteer in the FIRST science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program to show a diversity of pre-teens and teens that math, science and engineering are fascinating, fun and socially relevant.
Navy officials anticipate the students may one day use their STEM skills at Navy warfare center laboratories to design future technologies supporting U.S. warfighters and America's homeland defense and security personnel engaged in real-world missions.
All FIRST Robotics Competition regionals and tournaments are free and open to the public.
For additional information on FIRST programs and events, visit the FIRST website at www.usfirst.org or the Virginia FIRST website at www.virginiafirst.org.