Buchanan Bird Brains Soaring Above and Beyond

The 2021 Buchanan Bird Brains team. (Courtesy of Buchanan High School)

Buchanan Bird Brains was founded in 2004 at Buchanan High School. They are a well respected, award winning robotics team that gives back to their community and beyond. 

They have achieved The 2015 FIRST World Champions award as well as six regional chairman awards which recognize robotics teams that are exceptional at spreading the values of STEM. 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It has granted the ability for a longer life, faster travel, and has allowed individuals to possess greater knowledge at any given time.  

“STEM has improved the world around us and the quality of life lived today,” said Sabrina Olmedo, Director of Online Media for the Buchanan Bird Brains. 

FIRST is a well known international non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring the next generation of STEM innovators, it ranges from K-12 grade(s) and hosts an annual robotics competition. 

In order to compete in the FIRST competition, teams of high school students, coaches, and mentors have to work for six-weeks to create a robot capable of competing. 

Winning the regional Chairman’s award or the robot tournament as part of an alliance at either regional qualifier is a robotics team’s ticket to the World Championship which is either held in Houston, Texas or St. Louis, Missouri. 

The tournament typically lasts about 3 days. The first day is dedicated to practicing and qualifying their robots to address the game prompts. The second and third day, teams assemble into groups of three known to some as the “alliance.” The alliance is the group of members that compete in the play-off matches. 

“Sometime during these three days a select group of team members are called to a separate room to present our Chairman’s binder, a collection of all team information from team history to outreach events to business structure that our IR side spends the entire season creating alongside executing our initiatives,” said Olmedo. 

After all the Chairman’s presentations and playoff matches, everyone gathers together and an award ceremony is held which gives tribute to both the winners of the regional Chairman’s award and the teams moving on to the World Championships. 

The Buchanan Bird Brains don’t stop at just competing though, they also spend a lot of their time giving back to the community.

“We take pride in our community service and efforts to promote STEM to the world at large,” said Sabrina Olmedo, director of the online media for the Buchanan Bird Brains. 

The Buchanan Team has a program just for the future women of STEM, this is called  G.E.M.S. which stands for “Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science”, and the program lasts 4 weeks with 3 meetings per week after school. 

The first week is dedicated to computer-aided design and creating 3D models online, the second week is where the girls print out and assemble the models created in the previous week, the third week is dedicated to basic programming, and the fourth week is dedicated to public speaking and branding. 

It is hosted entirely by female leaders for girls from Alta Sierra middle school. It provides a short crash-course on the engineering process as well as the business aspect of STEM.

“Women are historically underrepresented in the field of STEM, and this program is how we work to change that situation and empower our female students at the same time,” said Olmedo.

They offer elementary level STEM students fun activities to develop problem solving and teamwork skills, and are currently translating the children’s book they wrote into 12 different languages. 

The Buchanan Bird Brains also work with local nonprofits, such as ‘A Hopeful Encounter’ to bring STEM workshops to students in Laos, an area where students and children are living in poverty. 

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the team continued to work hard and ended up gaining the ‘Equity and Access Grant’ that they are planning on using to fund their plan that spreads elementary-level robotics teams throughout Title I schools in the Central Valley. 

For those with interests in sponsoring, joining the high school team, or taking part in the elementary level programs they host, you can go to their website http://team1671.com/pages/contact/ and fill out a short message forum. 

“We encourage and invite members with a plethora, [a wide variety], of characteristics” said Olmedo. 

The team has subgroups that reflect STEM, these include engineering, media, sponsorship, outreach, and team spirit so there is a place for each type of person. 

“Our team has produced many engineers, analysts, animators, and programmers that become successful people in their adult years,” said Olmedo.

One example of this is one of her alumni students, Chris Erickson, who was an animator from the team. His job was to create shorts which went on to win awards at a high school level, this led to him then becoming an animator for Disney/Pixar. He helped create the hit children’s movie “Big Hero 6.” 

Others have moved on from the team and entered into the greater world of STEM, working for companies such as Disney/Hulu, Mine Ventilation Services, Symantec, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Digital Dimensions. 

Some have even progressed into larger roles within the robotics world, such as former members Andrew Nabors and Dimple Ravuri who are the current Head Coach and Teacher Advisor of the Buchanan Bird Brains and Callie Carbajal who is the FIRST LEGO League Program director of Central Valley Robotics. 

According to their website, “Our [The Buchanan Bird Brains] purpose is to spread the appreciation of Science and Technology throughout our community and the world at large.” 

They have done so through community services, outreach programs, organizations and after school programs for elementary level students, as well as  through the family dynamic of their team which has given members both a sense of belonging and a calling for knowledge and success.

Sydney Morgan, currently a junior at Fresno State University, grew up in the sleepy town of Templeton, CA. With Lester Holt and Carrie Bradshaw as her journalist role models, she considers herself to have a more creative approach to her news and entertainment stories.