Buchanan Bird Brains: Where STEM excellence meets community spirit

May 2, 2024 – In a bustling workshop at Buchanan High School in Clovis, California, two seniors, Colby Kirk and Colby Olsen, enthusiatically showcase the robotics team’s creation: a sleek, sophisticated robot named Juke Box.

The Bird Brains infused their robot with advanced features and innovative upgrades. Kirk eagerly points out its intricate components, including a sophisticated camera and AI system integrated into its design. “This is actually a camera, processor, and AI all built into this little area right here,” he explains, showcasing the team’s technical prowess.

As they help clean in preparation for the end of the school year, the two reflect on their long-tenured friendship. “We’ve known each other since 3rd grade. We have the exact same schedule. Our teachers love us,” Olsen, the team’s Chief Technical Officer, remarks with a grin.

Olsen gives his insights into the Bird Brains’ journey of competing in the annual FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship in April. “One of the main tenets of FIRST is ‘coopertition,'” Olsen explains. “We may be competing with each other, but we are working together at the same time.”

This mindset of working together extends far beyond building robots. With a team of 60 students, the Bird Brains tackle fundraising, outreach, media, and more. “We have a very strong local outreach,” Olsen confidently elaborates. “We’re always sharing STEM with our surrounding areas.”

The Colbys’ sentiments mirror those of Dimple Ravuri, the AP biology and honors chemistry teacher and robotics advisor at Buchanan High School, who just happened to be a junior on the robotics team when they won the FIRST World Championship in 2015. “I was a student on the team from 2013-2016. I came back in 2020, so this is my 4th year leading the team,” she shares fondly, reflecting on her journey with the Bird Brains.

The Buchanan Bird Brains ended the FIRST Robotics World Championship this year in 36th place. Not too shabby for a team from a small town competing with high-level talent throughout CA just for a chance to get into the world championship. They also brought home their 8th FIRST Impact award at the Central Valley Regionals this year. Ravuri highlights the importance of the IMPACT award, describing it as “the most prestigious award” given to teams that serve as role models for others. “Only 9 teams have won that award more times than we have,” she proudly states.

Ravuri speaks highly in her appreciation for the support of the community of Clovis, the parents of the students, and their sponsors. “If you look at our mentors, more than half of us are alumni. It shows how much Clovis is fostering that ‘giving back to your community’ feeling.” Echoing this sentiment, the two Colbys also plan on returning as mentors for the next generation of Bird Brains.

Emphasizing the hard work all the students put into the robotics team, Ravuri notes, “It’s not cheap. We have actual high school students doing grant writing, talking to sponsors, and hosting all these events. We have videography/photography, online media, finance, fundraising, outreach, robotics outreach, and an animation sub-group. We published a children’s book in 2015 (Three Little Birds: Reach for the Stars). They’re planning a sequel right now. It’s almost like its own engineering STEM-based non-profit with the goal of building a new robot every year.”

Ravuri shares future plans for the team, “More robotics teams in the area means we’re doing more for our community,” she continues, “Our biggest goal is to start middle school teams and start to bring back high school teams after that.”

While the kids continue to clean, making plans for the end of the semester, and talking about the potential sequel to their children’s book, Ravuri looks around and reflects joyously on the welcoming and inclusive culture of the robotics team. “Basically, we say ‘whatever skill you have, we’ll find a way to make our team better because of what you are bringing to the table.”