Sponsored by: Everything Classic Antiques

Written by: Audrey Sochor

The FIRST Robotics district competition is returning to Marysville High School on April 5, but this short-term competition has long-term benefits.

   “We see this as a great pipeline for future talent because of the multidisciplinary approach that FIRST Robotics provides their participants,” said Bruce Seymore, Manager of Business and Community Services for the Economic Development Alliance. “Students will learn a variety of techniques from marketing, creating a business plan to programming robots and learning how to run them. They’re even responsible for doing different presentations to companies, so it’s a great way to become a fully-rounded individual prior to joining the workforce.” Seymore added companies are stepping up by providing different types of support for local robotics teams, whether financial or in-kind contributions or lending their knowledge and experience.

   PTM Corporation is one such company. As CEO of the metal stamping manufacturing company, Donna Russell-Kuhr sees not only kids building robots, but the talented future workforce of St. Clair County. Her company sponsors Cardinal Mooney’s Robosapians robotics team and lets the team use her shop to put together and test the robots.

   “I joined robotics a couple years ago mostly because I wanted to expand my reach and my understanding of different fields and different things I wasn’t at all familiar with,” said Hani Nasr, Robosapians co-captain, and business strategy team leader. “…it also gave me more opportunities to grow in the things that I’m interested in and in the skills that are going to be important to me in the future. I’ve gained mechanical skills, electrical skills, some coding – programming – skills,” Nasr added. “But more than that I’ve gained social skills, self-confidence and things you wouldn’t expect to be associated with building a robot, but these things are important when you’re going about the process of collaborating with your team and with other teams, and the community.”

   Those skills and more are why Russell-Kuhr thinks robotics gives participants a heads up in the job market for any industry. While robotics is currently only available to high school students on a local level, she and other community leaders are working on introducing it to the rest of K-12. Russell-Kuhr would like to see all types of students join robotics teams, and Cardinal Mooney senior Erin Parlow shares that idea. “For better or worse, both of my parents are engineers so I kind of grew up without any doubt I’d go into STEM. When I got to Cardinal Mooney, I quickly joined the robotics team,” said Parlow, who is a Robosapians co-captain and lead of the programming team. “But then I learned it was so much more – it was a really inclusive environment and we could learn lots of things and different skills. I hope that in the future everyone joins and realizes that this is not just about the stereotypical robotics students. It’s so much more about everything else that goes into it, just really figuring out who you are as an individual.”

   Forty-one teams will compete in the FIRST Robotics district competition at Maryville High School from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 5. Finals will be held April 6.