In 2008, when Tim Koch, then a drive train engineer at Caterpillar, was asked to help establish a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team in Tremont, he never imagined that his team would win a world title, well as of last month, Tremont’s Roboteers Team 2841 earned that title. Never heard of FIRST Robotics? Well, here’s how it works: every year the FIRST organization reveals a new “game” to their teams across the globe, these teams then have six weeks to plan, build, and program a robot to play the game outlined by FIRST. Once the robots are built, teams compete with, and against, one another in regional tournaments.
So, earlier this year, Tremont’s Roboteers Team 2841, which consists of 28 students from around Tazewell County guided by 19 volunteer mentors, set to work building a robot to compete in this year’s game: throwing boulders to destroy an opponent’s tower.
“It’s been a fantastic partnership,” says Andy Schwenk, Tremont School District liaison. “Using Tremont High School as a home base allows team members to actually work on their FIRST robotics projects during class periods! For example, we have students that are able to work on their robot during their computer programming class, it works really well.”
“But it’s more than just building a robot,” Tim added, “It’s more like running a startup company, the kids have to develop a budget, market themselves to raise funds and donations, and scout the competition. After all that then have to prototype, improve, and build their robot; they’re learning so much, but they don’t even realize they’re learning, it’s amazing!”
In March, Team 2841 won the FIRST robotics competition held at Bradley University’s Renaissance Coliseum, and then two weeks later they also won the Smoky Mountain Regional competition held in Knoxville, Tennessee. These two wins guaranteed their entry into the world championship held in St. Louis in April. Once the teams get to the competition, they’re randomly assigned to a team with two other groups of students from across the globe. Once introduced these three teams of students must work together to create a strategy on how to defeat their opponents.
“It’s madness, but it teaches them skills on how to work together with people who’ve they’ve just met, who are different than them, but they can come together as a team, and this will be important for them when they enter college or get a job.” Says Tim
Ultimately, Team 2841 was partnered with teams from Ohio, Virginia, and California and they battled their way to the final heat, defeating their opponents and earning themselves and world victory! But the real victory is the impact that the FIRST robotics program has had on students.
“We’ve had over 100 students come through our FIRST program in the eight years we’ve been operating, and about 85% of them go on to pursue a STEM career, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” says Andy Schwenk. “In fact, we have about six volunteer mentor who were previously members of our team and they’ve come back to help guide our current students!”
Ready for the best part? There are FIRST teams all around our region doing amazing work, click here to find a team close to you, and if you’re in Tazewell County and want to find out more about Tremont’s Team 2841, or just want to glean some best practices, feel free to reach out to Andy Schwenk at firstname.lastname@example.org.