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Ferndale’s FIRST robotics team wins districts

Team makes presentation to governor

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published March 11, 2015

 Members of the team speak to Gov. Rick Snyder during the summit.

Members of the team speak to Gov. Rick Snyder during the summit.

Photo provided by Ferndale High School

FERNDALE — Within less than a week, Ferndale High School’s Impi Warriors FIRST robotics team saw more than six weeks of hard work pay off in two big ways.

With a team of 44 students, plus teachers and mentors, working on a robot for six weeks leading up to the FIRST robotics district competition Feb. 27-28 at Standish High School, the team was able to create a robot that not only completed the task required for this year’s competition, but did so better than any other robot in their district.

After taking first place at districts, the team was invited just a few days later to present at Gov. Rick Snyder’s Summit on Education and Economics March 3 at the Renaissance Center in Detroit. A select few members of the team were able to speak about their robot as well as what the FIRST robotics program means to them.

“For me, it was a huge honor because I got to talk about our goal and explain how the program in general influences us,” FHS senior Carissa Gadson, who was the presenter for the team at the summit, said. “It was really easy to talk about to the crowd because it was sincere and real. I would say it was easy because I was speaking from the heart about how much (the program) changed me and how I was thankful for everything.”

Dean Kamen — who invented the Segway — and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Woodie Flowers created the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition for high school students to get them interested in mathematics, science and engineering. The competition has around 3,000 teams in 18 different countries.

FHS teacher Elin Mathews, who heads the school’s FIRST robotics team, said Michigan has the second-most FIRST robotics teams in the country, after California, and the teams must first compete in district competitions before going on to compete in the state and national competitions.

Each year, a game is designed for the robots to play, and the teams have six weeks to build a robot before taking them to competition. This year, the robots had to be able to stack packing bins on top of each other before placing a trash can on top.

The Impi Warriors’ robot was able to stack five bins by putting all bins inside a self-contained storage area using an elevator, and then using a conveyer belt to transport the bins onto the platform. Each team has to form an alliance to play the game, and the Impi Warriors were able to go undefeated with a variety of partners.

“We would have two other teams working with us, and our robot did really well going undefeated on every alliance,” said Mathews, who teaches biology and physics at FHS. “Normally, you lose a couple of games because you have weak members, or you do really great because you have great members, so it is special that we never lost a match. Our robot was just doing really well.”

Besides taking first, the team also won the Industrial Design Award for designing a robot best-suited for the game.

For Gadson, it took some time for her to join the robotics team, competing in only her second year as a senior, but she feels the competition is a great way to develop skills, as the students can focus on an area of engineering that interests them.

As a junior, Gadson worked more on building the robot, but this year, she moved over to the programming side and helped by serving as the spokesperson for the team.

“Everyone has the opportunity to get their hands on the robot and contribute to the overall goal, so every member can go to the robot and identify what part they helped create,” she said. “We want every kid to know what is going on and really learn something new every day.”

Snyder’s summit brought more than 700 people to the Renaissance Center, and Mathews said the governor specifically asked for a FIRST robotics team to be present to speak on the program.

As the Impi Warriors prepare for the state competition April 9-11 in Grand Rapids, Mathews said that being invited to the summit and the team’s success is proof that the program is doing what it was designed to do.

“I think the biggest thing students get from this is problem-solving and that whole trial and error process,” she said. “If it is not working, what can they do to make it work? Most kids would say they don’t know how to do it and stop. They get the aspect of seeing the problem, analyzing it and then using their skills and training and abilities to fix it.”

In the fall, Gadson will enroll at MIT and study computer science. When she heads out east after graduation, Gadson said, what she will take away most from being part of the Impi Warriors is the team-building they developed over just six weeks.

“In general for MIT, you are going to be doing more collaborative work,” she said. “When working on homework, you may need help from others and you may need to help others, so I have learned how to do that from being on the team. I learned how important teamwork is and that you can’t meet the goals without helping each other.

“I think the morals I learned from the team will definitely help me in the future.”