Team 103 was featured in our newest sponsor’s newsletter that is distributed nationwide and available on the web. While is is about our team, it’s a shot in the arm for FIRST and reaches another part of the technology market.
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Robotics Competition Spurs Interest in Science & Technology, Spawns New Skills
By David Roman & Marilynn Larkin
When Peter Kieselbach’s daughter, Beckie, joined the Palisades High School Cybersonics Technology Team 103, “I thought, this is great, my daughter is learning a lot with a nice bunch of kids,” he recalls. “But what really got me hooked was when I went to the first competition at Rutgers. I was absolutely overwhelmed. All the teams were competing, but they were also cheering for each other and helping each other out. In addition to learning about technology, they are learning to have a great competitive—and cooperative—spirit,” says Kieselbach, who is a senior project manager at Pharmacopeia.
Beckie puts it this way: “When you join Cybersonics, there are no preconceptions or limitations. The only expectation is that you try your best to learn. It’s different from any other club I’ve been involved in; when you’re there you feel like you’re doing something significant. It’s a program that you can really work hard in, but still have a very good time” (for more comments from participating students, see page 6).
The Cybersonics team is made up of about 37 students from the high school, which is located in Kintnersville, Bucks County, PA. It is one of hundreds of teams competing nationally and internationally as part of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Foundation high school robotics competition. FIRST (www.usfirst.org) requires that students design, construct, and remotely control a vehicle in an intense competition that aims to show young people that engineering and science can be as captivating as any sporting event. In addition to the robotics portion of the competition, students are also challenged to create an original 30-second computer animation, a web site, and the National Chairman’s Award entry.
During the 2003 season, the Cybersonics team earned 12 awards, including the FIRST National Chairman’s Award. Team members report spending an average of 30-to-40 hours a week in extra curricular science and engineering projects, and the high school recently formed two new courses related to the students’ FIRST experience: a robotics course and a 3-D animation course. The student-run web site, www.cybersonics.org, provides perspectives on the students’ scientific aspirations and abilities.
Fundraising & Community Service
Beyond getting more deeply involved in robotics and engineering, the students are responsible for fundraising, promotion, and community service activities. “It’s definitely not just about technology,” says Kieselbach. “The robot is the hook; it’s the flamboyant, competitive part that people see first, and gets everyone interested. But a tremendous amount of work goes on behind the scenes, from business administration to communication. These young people are learning skills that most of us don’t learn until we’re already out in the work force, and they bring these skills with them to college.”
Basket Bingo, spaghetti dinners, clothing drives, and frequent presentations to potential corporate sponsors are among the fundraising activities that the students engage in, according to Mike Williams, the team’s vice president. In 2003, Team 103 had more than 100 sponsors and contributors.
Team members also reach out to the next generation of robot enthusiasts by mentoring middle and elementary school children. Last season, local students participated in the FIRST LEGO League challenge, which involved selecting a mission to Mars, designing an expedition, and building a small LEGO robot under the guidance of Cybersonics team mentors.
Mentors & Sponsors
The Cybersonics team also has mentors of its own, including Kieselbach. “Most are parents, but some are just really interested in helping out,” he says. “And several have children who graduated years ago, but they’ve stayed with the team. It’s one of those things that gets in your blood.”
Sponsorship brings several benefits to companies, according to Kieselbach. “It’s an energizing experience for employees who become involved—a way to renew interest in their careers. Many people who become mentors have been in their careers for years, and although they still enjoy their work, they feel like they’re in a rut. That was the case for me, and getting involved with the team really renewed my appreciation for the impact that engineering can have. Mentoring also gives you new problem-solving skills, and the opportunity to dust off and practice the skills you haven’t been using. It’s also a great way to learn to work with a lot of different people you probably wouldn’t ordinarily work with.”
In addition to doing something beneficial for young people and helping potential future employees, companies also gain some advertising benefits, Kieselbach notes. “Competitions are broadcast on cable and NASA television, and regional events are also webcast. Since people interested in technology and science are attending these events, a company’s logo on a robot and team shirts gives good exposure to the right people. Sponsorship can also boost a company’s corporate image. And you can’t underestimate the impact on the students. They’re learning tremendous skills and really perform at an incredible level.”
For more information on Cybersonics mentoring and sponsorship opportunities, contact Cathy Beck at (610) 847-5131, ext. 2014. For information on mentoring and sponsorship of student teams in the USA and internationally, see www.usfirst.org.
2004 Cybersonics Schedule