Students show off robots at Clovis North

Students present their robots during the Clovis North Stable Stomp robotics challenge at Clovis North Educational Center on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. (Tomas Kassahun/Clovis Roundup)

For the first time in Central California, two FIRST Robotics qualifiers took place at the same time and in the same location.

Focused on developing interest in science, technology, engineering and math careers in a friendly competitive environment, FIRST robotics is a worldwide program.

The event, which brought together 48 robotics teams from elementary, intermediate and high schools, took place at Clovis North on Saturday, Dec. 16.

“I see this program as a way to teach students how to work together on teams to solve problems. It builds up skills in speaking and working together,” said Michael Adam, director for Central Valley Robotics, which oversees the FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Junior program. “We’re all here together to make everyone better. We’re not necessarily here to compete and put other people down.”

Student robotics groups designed working robots of all sizes to compete in the FIRST Robotics League and FIRST LEGO League. Robots stacked materials, balanced on moving objects, navigated obstacle courses and placed objects around the competitive arena.

“They’re learning professional skills on a safer scale and in a fun way. They’ll grow up being better teammates, better classmates and helping everybody out,” said event organizer Mary Allen. “Everybody fits in here. There is something that is everybody’s jam in FIRST Robotics. Our goal is to help them find their jam, to play nice with the other kids in the sandbox and learn something along the way.”

The international program encourages students of all ages to explore their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through competition.

“I’ve done this for seven years. Starting with the FIRST LEGO League, now in FIRST Robotics competitions. I’ve gained so many skills,” said Jacob Baker, Chief Communications Officer of the Buchanan Bird Brains First Robotics Team. “If you’re looking for a great community and you’re in high school or middle school, there is really something for everyone.”

At the event on Saturday, groups from all three FIRST divisions (high school, intermediate and elementary) were engaged in friendly competition to prepare for upcoming regional events next month.

“We’re doing the LEGO robotics. This is my first year competing,” said sixth-grader Mikey Carpenter. “I wanted to try something new that was fun. This is actually really cool.”

Last year, three teams from Clovis Unified qualified to compete in the World Robotics Championship, and teams are eyeing the prize again this year.

“It’s more than just robots,” Adam said. “You have kids that work on sponsorships, marketing, branding. So those that aren’t necessarily into the robots, they will find a place in the program and support the team as a larger whole.”


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