FIRST Robotics returns to RIT

Robot creations, teams will face off March 7-8

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A. Sue Weisler | photographer

Members of the Nazareth Academy FIRST Robotics team work on building their robot which will compete at the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics Competition March 7-8 at RIT. Forty teams from the Rochester area will compete at the event.

The Gordon Field House and Activities Center will again echo with loud, pulsing music, exuberant cheers and grinding gears as 40 teams from across the Northeast United States and Canada compete for the title of Finger Lakes Region Robotics Champions. For the fourth consecutive year, RIT will host the annual Finger Lakes Regional FIRST—For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology—Robotics Competition, March 7-8.

Each year FIRST high school robotics teams are presented with a new game and a new set of rules, requiring them to devise a unique robot that will address the competition’s task. This year’s game, Overdrive, challenges teams to maneuver their robots around a rectangular track to complete laps while pushing large ‘trackballs.’ Teams accumulate points by moving the trackballs under or over an ‘overpass’ that bisects the track.

New to this year’s competition will be a team from Rochester’s Nazareth Academy, winners of the Rookie Award at January’s RaChaCha Ruckus kickoff competition. The 12 Nazareth Academy students have partnered with 13 female mentors from Xerox Corp., comprising the first all-female student team in the Finger Lakes region.

The addition of a robotics team is a natural extension of education at Nazareth Academy, which focuses on STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—initiatives in the classroom. This allows students to pursue opportunities in areas of study where they have not been traditionally guided. Through their involvement with FIRST Robotics, the students gain valuable hands-on experience in addition to their education in the classroom.

“FIRST provides the young women with an excellent exposure to technology and allows them to explore whether or not it’s an area they want to continue pursuing,” says Mary Ziewars, a team mentor from Xerox.

Within the team, many real-life processes and jobs are addressed, taking students through the stages of production on their robot, TYRA, and with the design of T-shirts, buttons and other apparel, which has become an essential part of FIRST competition.

“Whether they’re working on the robotics team or on publicity and advertising, FIRST provides a great avenue to develop leadership skills,” says Laurine Barnes, a team mentor from Xerox.

Winners of the regional event will advance to the National Competition, April 17-19, at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.