Stronghold - 2016
Written By: Media Team
Huskie Robotics: An Unbreakable Pack
The Iditarod is an Alaskan sled dog race, where the world’s finest huskies and their trainers must cover over a thousand miles in under 2 weeks. Under intense time constraints, teams must learn to cooperate, communicate, and perform. Our strong team leadership helps pull along the newest members of the pack. This is the spirit of Huskie Robotics Team 3061. Together, we compete and we learn. We are not just a robotics team, we are a pack.
In 2009, we started our team with only 6 students. We had no idea what we were getting into when we joined the FIRST Robotics Competition. Since then, we’ve evolved from clueless to confident, thanks to the FIRST community. Today, Huskie Robotics is a community of over 60 students, 20 mentors and 8 sponsors. As we have grown in numbers these past 8 years, we have learned what unites us is “more than robots.”
Mr. Rowzee, a mentor, always tells us at the beginning of every robotics season, “I’ve been doing this for many years and I still don’t know anything about robotics.” FIRST is not just about the robots. FIRST is about the life skills that students apply in teamwork and leadership. During our 8 years as a team, we went from watching and learning to leading and teaching. We now have the confidence to inspire others, just as FIRST inspires us.
This year, our overall team is led by 3 students in the roles of Team Captain, Chief Robot Designer and Chief Game Strategist. All students are members of a discipline (Mechanical, Electrical, Software, Fabrication, Scouting, and Media), each of which is led by a student. After Kickoff, when all members contribute to the development of our game strategy, we further organize into cross-discipline subteams aligned to robot functionality. With this student-led structure, guided by mentors, we foster a culture of belonging, collaboration and learning. While mentors work directly with students, the Friends of Robotics parent committee supports the team administratively by coordinating meals, spirit wear, and travel.
Our efforts don’t stop at Closing Ceremonies; we attend STEM showcases and off-season competitions throughout the year, and hold team development and training in the fall. At the end of each season, the entire team reflects on what we want to “keep,” “fix” and “try”. This resulted in an extra weekly meeting for more training and projects in the off season and the restructuring of our team organization. The pre-season was filled with projects, including designing a t-shirt cannon, software architecture, and learning a project management platform for organization and transparency. These projects help both veterans and newcomers further their skills, building trust and foundations for future seasons.
Leadership on our team is earned through dedication to the team and an application process. For instance, Sejal, a team lead, started teaching CAD and mechanical skills; his work inspired a teammate to mentor an FLL team. Neil, who learned the best practices for electrical connections from our mentors, passed this knowledge to a younger teammate, Trent. They ended up building an electrical board for the robot which inspired Trent to join the electrical team. Leadership is also fostered through programs like Big Brothers/Sisters which pairs veterans with new members to help them become part of the team.
With the combination of hard and soft skill and our team culture as a base, many of our members graduate with a strong sense of what they will pursue. They have gone on to attend prestigious college programs at Cornell, Northwestern, Purdue, MIT, and Olin while also scoring internships at Google, SpaceX, Tesla, and NASA. Whatever they pursue, our alumni are passionate about improving the world.
Sponsors and Mentors
Sponsors and mentors provide a solid foundation for us. While we do rely on their much needed financial backing, even more integral to the growth of Huskie Robotics is the mentoring, service, and other support they provide.
This year, we are working with our sponsors, MPCS, Parallax, and Grayhill, to sell our new, student-designed, roboRIO MXP Boards. Midwest Printed Circuit Services is manufacturing the PCBs to industry standards, Grayhill is helping by donating time on their busy manufacturing line to prototype and test our boards, and Parallax has agreed to mass-produce and sell the boards to other FRC teams. They, along with a mentor, have helped us through the full design, prototyping and manufacturing process.
Our sponsors trust our team and the ability of our members. Molex normally only accepts college-aged interns. After working with our team, they offered 3 of our members engineering internships. Grayhill also offered a student a job when they saw his technical skills. We have been invited to many open houses and tours hosted by Motorola Solutions, Lextech, Navistar, Create Cut Invent, and Grayhill.
Our mentors are very dedicated to our team, and routinely go above and beyond to help us. Some have conducted workshops such as social media marketing, an introduction to Trello, and a weekly LabVIEW tutorial over the summer. Ed, a retired Navistar engineer, has health limitations. He is frustrated that he isn’t allowed to come to our meetings while he waits for clearance from his doctor, and checks in with us often. Clive, also from Navistar, felt such a connection with our team that he involved a friend equipped with a tractor trailer to drive to Indiana to pick up 4 pieces of machining equipment and deliver them to us, a multiple day operation. With this equipment and sustained instruction by our mentors, all machining for the robot is performed by students in our school. These are just a few examples of the extraordinary efforts of our mentors.
We inspire our community through a wide variety of outreach activities. We share our passion for FIRST through elementary STEM nights, science summer camps, junior-high workshops, Boy Scout events, and presentations at the local ASME chapter’s conference. A memorable example of our impact on the community occurred this fall at our community’s inaugural Mini-Maker Faire. A little girl ran up to our robot Annie and said, “Oh, it’s Annie. I love Annie!” She then revealed to her perplexed dad that she remembered Annie from when we visited her school.
Over the past several years, we have provided extracurricular STEM opportunities for elementary and junior high students and served as mentors. Our first project engaged elementary students in the ideation, design, and construction of experiments that we launched in a high-altitude balloon. Next we implemented 2 10-week workshops for students from 2 of our junior highs. We mentored groups of students as they designed, built, and tested underwater ROVs. The next year, the project was quadcopters.
During our preseason, we dedicated time to an open-source 3D-printed hand for Enabling The Future. Brandon, our chief robot designer, came up with the idea and directed a group of 4 freshman in the effort. After we tweeted out a picture of the hand, a passionate teacher in our district contacted a doctor about our project. We were then matched with a potential candidate in our community: a boy who lost his hand due to an explosion in Iraq. The entire family will soon meet the team and see the prototype.
Over the past 5 years, our team has developed a comprehensive program to assist new FLL teams. In addition, by winning the Gracious Professionalism award 3 of the last 4 years, we have proven we embody the values of FIRST.
We began helping the FLL community by mentoring local teams. The next year, we hosted a mentor clinic where FLL alumni on the team trained other members to become mentors. To inspire FLL teams toward a future in FRC, we began hosting an annual FLL open house at the end of our 2013 season.
Beginning in 2013, we focused our efforts on improving existing teams. That year, we added an FLL clinic in September featuring different sessions for coaches and kids including: team management, Core Values, project research, robot design and locomotion. We volunteered at FLL qualifier tournaments and the regional championship. We then added a “How to get started in FLL” session in the spring of 2015 which started at least 6 new teams. This year, we ran and hosted a double FLL qualifying tournament of 32 teams and had some volunteers from FRC Team 2338 assist us.
This year, we were able to establish an FLL foothold within our school district. Students who weren’t reaching their full potential in the classroom were invited in hopes that this activity would provide inspiration. We started 4 teams in one elementary school by providing a $2000 sponsorship, giving coaching support, and mentoring.
In addition to the work we do with FLL, we share our team experience in FRC to help other teams. We open sourced our code and robot designs and wrote an FRC manual. At the Midwest Regional 4 years ago, a group of freshmen worked with a single student and his teacher to build a robot from parts and write code from scratch so the team could complete. The robot was finished in time for the first match and since there was only a student and his teacher, 2 students covered their Huskie Robotics shirts to stand-in on this team’s drive team so they could participate. As chance would have it, they were on our alliance for the first match. This act is one of the many ways we kept gracious professionalism in our culture.
Like the sled dog teams of the Iditarod, Huskie Robotics is successful because our team, with extensive support, works to fulfill a shared mission. Our student-lead team works with corporate sponsors, mentors, and parents to fulfill this mission of inspiring and serving both our local and FIRST communities. Success in FIRST can’t be accomplished by one team alone; everyone in our FIRST community is needed to pull the sled forward towards success.