Frog Force team members and mentors gather at the Novi High School football field in August to celebrate being inducted into the FIRST Robotics Hall of Fame.

Frog Force team members and mentors gather at the Novi High School football field in August to celebrate being inducted into the FIRST Robotics Hall of Fame.

Photo provided by Linda Douglas


Novi High School robotics team inducted into FIRST Robotics Hall of Fame

By: Jonathan Shead | Novi Note | Published September 10, 2021

 Novi High School graduate and former Frog Force team member Megan Douglas accepts the Allaire Award, which recognizes students for outstanding leadership, as part of the team’s championship Chairman’s Award. Frog Force graduate Joshua Huang also received the award, which comes with a $5,000 scholarship for each recipient.

Novi High School graduate and former Frog Force team member Megan Douglas accepts the Allaire Award, which recognizes students for outstanding leadership, as part of the team’s championship Chairman’s Award. Frog Force graduate Joshua Huang also received the award, which comes with a $5,000 scholarship for each recipient.

Photo provided by Linda Douglas

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NOVI — Novi High School’s robotics team, Team 503, or “Frog Force” as they call themselves, has had a number of accomplishments to celebrate during its history, but this past August, the team celebrated its most rewarding accomplishment yet.

Frog Force, after winning at the FIRST Robotics 2021 world championship event, received the Chairman’s Award, making it only one of a handful of Michigan FIRST Robotics teams to be inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Induction into the FIRST Hall of Fame grants Frog Force automatic qualification into FIRST’s championship competition every year forward, “though most of the teams are still pretty active and qualify some other way,” FIRST Robotics Competition Program Specialist Fiona Hanson said about the Hall of Fame inductees.

“The way this award is judged, it’s judged on a local level, and then it moves on to our next level. The team is in a district, so they had to compete at two different local levels before they got to the championship level, which is what they won, the Championship Chairman’s Award. Technically, they won three different awards this year for Chairman,” Hanson added.

The submission process for the award included a 10,000-character-or-less essay, and the team had to answer roughly 10 executive summary questions provided to them. Hanson said Frog Force had been applying to receive the award for multiple years.

“The Chairman’s Award is the most prestigious award at FIRST, and it’s really about sustained impact within your community. It’s not just a one-year effort. Teams that win this on a local level usually have been doing stuff within their community for a couple of years,” she said. “You’re compared to yourself year and year, as well as all the other teams you’re competing against. … You’re just trying to have the best local impact within your community.”

The momentum the team has seen in recent years with its efforts in promoting and providing access to science, technology, engineering and math education across the metro Detroit region has been noteworthy, said Novi High School sophomore Sanjith Udupa, who is a member of the team.

“Something that we’re really proud of as a team is our whole program in Detroit. It’s something that we’ve built up over the last several years from, originally, we had just been mentoring one team in Detroit, and it ended up growing for us. We started some (FIRST Tech Challenge) teams. We started working with community programs, starting teams with them, to reach more students,” Udupa said. “Now, we’ve reached out to other Detroit FTC and FIRST teams to actually create this alliance, called the ‘Motor City Alliance,’ which is a group of robotics teams that work together to try to change the culture in Detroit toward more appreciation of robotics.”

Not only has the team promoted STEM education at home, but members of the team have gone international, to China, to work with organizations overseas, as well. Frog Force hasn’t stopped at STEM education either.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the team took a chance to reflect and pivot their season to do something good for the greater community. Using 3D printing technology, the team produced face shields for first responders and the school community.

“It felt a lot more important,” Udupa remarked. “When you’re doing something for other people that they’re going to use to protect them, it’s obviously going to be a lot more important (than the robot). It felt really good to leverage the skills that I had learned previously.”

The team also has taken on initiatives involving diversity, equity and inclusion. Team outreach lead and high school senior, Ashna Talukder, started a unified robotics program, which pairs special education students with mentors to compete in STEM Lego competitions.

“That’s something where you can see an impact happen, because you can actually see the excitement, or when we were brainstorming and the kids are actually building the robots, where we were all working together. It was a super cool experience, not only for them, but also for me for getting to be part of the competition and team,” Talukder said.

The team’s ultimate goal, she said, is to make the team’s projects and initiatives as long-lasting as possible.

“That’s something that is very helpful, especially with things in STEM; if you have a program that goes all the way from younger kids to high schoolers, you want to make sure you provide resources, and that’s the best way to make these programs actually last,” she said.

Sustainability sits as one of the key markers for success in FIRST, Hanson added.

“It’s really about sustainability, so we really want teams to have sustained excellence. It varies across the board on how teams win (this award), but when you win at the championship level, in our eyes you’re one of the best teams out there, because you’re doing what we want all the other teams to emulate.”

As one of the teams inducted into the FIRST Robotics Hall of Fame, Frog Force will be given opportunities to submit feedback to FIRST to help the organization better guide and improve itself for its competitors. The team’s application submission also will be posted on the FIRST website for other teams to view.

With only 120 days left before the start of the 2022 season, Talukder feels excited and ready to return to the competition field, and Udupa is gearing up to experience in-person competitions for the first time.

“We’ve always had a pretty good balance of having a competitive robot and doing all the outreach that we do. Being in person and actually being able to drive the robot around, compete with other teams, and have that competitive environment back is going to be super exciting,” Talukder said.

For freshman Priya Moorthy, a member of the Frog Force program team, getting back to helping the other teams that they’ve helped get started provides just as much excitement as the competition.

“They also have lost their season, because of COVID and all,” Moorthy said. “When we’re helping those students and they’re also competing and winning, that’s also another form of enjoyment we get, so I’m really excited for that.”

For more information, visit frogforce503.org/index.html.

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