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Robotics team likes fun and work of technology

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District FIRST
(For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)
 Robotics High School Team 1923, The MidKnight Inventors, ended a stellar 2013

By Jennifer Kohlhepp, Staff Writer   Thursday, December 5, 2013 5:55 PM EST

WEST WINDSOR — The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics High School Team 1923, The MidKnight Inventors, ended a stellar 2013 season by winning the Brunswick Eruption.  The team’s Frisbee-throwing and pyramid-climbing robot won the championship together with alliance partners High Voltage from Brooklyn and Robotic Plague from Staten Island. Forty high school teams from seven states participated in the competition.

   The MidKnight Inventors is a team of students from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North and High School South. Starting in January, the team of approximately 100 students builds a robot for competitions during March and April and then uses the robot to compete in off-season games from May to November. This year, the team took 25th place out of 100 in the world championship games in St. Louis with its machine named Robart after Dr. Bart Kamen, a mentor who helped found the West Windsor-Plainsboro robotics team with his daughter Libby Kamen and her friend Katie Stevens.

   Kelsey Stevens followed in her sister’s footsteps and also went on to captain the team during her junior and senior years of high school. She and her father, Michael, continue to mentor the team. Mr. Stevens, who watched the team grow from 10 participants in 2005 to 100 participants this year, said, “The (FIRST) program is set up to show kids there are other things to do besides bouncing and hitting balls and to expose them to as many different scientists and engineers as possible. It gives them other possible career choices.”

   In addition to building competitive robots, the FIRST Robotics students are committed to expanding their interests and teaching others about science, technology, engineering, and math. The mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills; inspire innovation; and foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership. FIRST enables high school students to learn about working as a team, fundraising, making corporate presentations and “gracious professionalism.”  FIRST Robotics teaches students to appreciate the fun and hard work of technology.

   Junior Sahil Shah, who co-captained the team with senior Bhabish Yalamanchi, this year, said FIRST Robotics is a fun introduction to computer programming, engineering and building. Bhabish said the club also exposes students to community outreach. Not only do team members have to fundraise every penny it spends each year, which could mean up to $50,000, they also dedicate themselves to spreading technology interest in younger kids and encouraging them to think about careers in science, technology, engineering and math and related fields, he said.

   Ms. Stevens said she never would have thought about majoring in environmental engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology had she not participated in FIRST Robotics. ”I would have never thought of it as an option,” Ms. Stevens said. “It really was because of the amount of fun I had doing mechanical things and solving problems (in FIRST Robotics).”

Even though building a robot in the weeks running up to competition season can be exhausting on the minds and bodies of the students, they wouldn’t have it any other way.  Junior Nabeel Peshiman said he enjoys the whole experience of FIRST Robotics, especially the build part.   ”It’s fun working with the materials and thinking about ways to achieve a task,” he said. “It’s fun being on the field in competitions with the robot you worked on.”

   The team is also known for its camaraderie.  ”Once you join FIRST you are in FIRST forever,” senior Sarah Slemmon said. “You get addicted to something you love and stay forever.”

   Each robot is built to play specific games, which are broadcast by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in January. The MidKnight Inventors are eager to find out what their robot will have to do next season.  ”We never know until the simulcast from NASA,” Mr. Stevens said. “They announce (the games) worldwide because there are teams in Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Brazil and all over the world.”  Mr. Stevens and team advisor Kathy Rogers said they mentor with more and more enthusiasm each year as they watch the MidKnight Inventors’ robots get more technologically savvy. They recalled the first robot being built out of wood.

   This year, the team’s machine was sponsored by Madison-Marquette Management, the West Windsor-Plainsboro Education Foundation, Princeton Plastics Physics Lab and SRI International.

   For more information about the West Windsor-Plainsboro robotics team, visit  www.FIRSTRobotics1923.org.

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