Big Robots, Big Competition, Big Opportunities

Mar. 20, 2019

​When you think of students spending months of after school sessions honing their abilities and practicing their movements so that they can take the field and compete against the best students from other schools across the city, province, and world, what do you think of? Most of us default to football, basketball, or badminton, but on April 5 and 6 the best future scientists and engineers in our high schools will show off the skills they have honed and movements they’ve practiced in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC).

This year’s game features students competing in the game Deep Space with a robot that they fabricated in the first six weeks of 2019.

This is the second year for one of those programs, team 7277 from Nelson Mandela High School, and their Safety Captain April N. April is set to pursue a career in nursing after graduating and acts as the team’s manager of organizing tools, preventing and calling out unsafe situations, and making sure that everyone on the team goes home healthy.

“FIRST showed me that I could do more than I thought. Robotics was never my interest but to see that I could participate as part of a team made it incredibly interesting.”

This competition was an epiphany for some members of 7277 last year after they received the honor of being named Rookie All Stars at the Western Canadian Regional. That honor came with an invite to Houston to join the CBE’s teams 4627 and 4733 from Ernest Manning and Dr. E.P. Scarlett high schools in competing at a world championship.

“Houston opened a new field of competition for our school.” April added. “Competing didn’t need to be just in athletics, it could be in other areas. It’s really exciting to go to a championship and experience that, especially as rookies. I’ve never experienced that with any athletic team and being there to represent our school was incredible.”

Everything that happens in a FRC competition hinges on the idea that all of the student “athletes” are future professionals in a STEM or related field. They all adhere to a code of gracious professionalism, which says because students are all working towards success in their fields, they should work to support and encourage their competition; leading to significant events of sportsmanship, such as lending expertise and parts as well as helping troubleshoot electrical and code problems.

“This program didn’t change how I felt about my future in STEM but it opened up my eyes to other options such as health and safety beyond what my path in post secondary could be.” April said. “For the other team members it broadened their horizons about what engineering or computer science could be for them.”

The competition commences on Friday, April 5 at 8:30 a.m. and runs until the late afternoon on the 6th in the Nelson Mandela High School main gym. It will feature 35 teams including competitors from across Alberta, the United States, Mexico, Turkey, China, and Australia. Admission is free and the public is welcome to come watch and cheer on the students as they compete for the honor of being Canadian Rockies Champions.