by TaLeiza Calloway – firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Abraham has always liked to build things. The St. Joseph resident said he used to take his toys apart just so he could put them back together. It’s no wonder the Apollo High School student was drawn to a robotics team.
The 15-year-old is one of several local students from St. Joseph on the Granite City Gearheads F.I.R.S.T. Robotics Team #3244. F.I.R.S.T. stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
The St. Cloud team is made up of about 20 students from Apollo, St. Cloud Technical High School and Cathedral High School. The team is headed to a national competition April 24-27 in St. Louis thanks to a first-place clinch at a regional competition.
“I’m really happy and excited,” Abraham said. “We didn’t expect to go. It’s kind of unbelievable that we’re going.”
Coach Joy Birr can believe it. The St. Joseph resident has been coaching the team for two years and has seen how hard the students work. From advertising, managing social media and raising money, students run an entire business.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Birr said. “The fact they can come up with a plan and create a robot that follows a 150-page rule book is just amazing.”
Science, technology, engineering and math are really the focus of the program. Being on the team allows them to gain experience in all of these fields.
At the regional competition, students were given multifaceted challenges created by the nation’s most esteemed engineers including those from NASA, according to a press release. Birr said they were given the challenge, rules, regulation and specs and only six weeks to create a robot. They then compete against other teams.
The St. Cloud team created a robot that was programmed to throw frisbees automatically during the autonomous period, throw frisbees during the tele-op period and climb/hang on a metal pyramid for additional points during the regional competition.
Robotics is a new state-sanctioned high school sport in Minnesota that continues to gain momentum statewide. Birr said there are some schools that have more people signing up for robotics than the football team.
Birr’s oldest son Calvin brought her to the team and now her younger son Alex is also on the team. She stepped in when the previous coach needed to exit.
For Calvin Birr, the real-life application of skills is what drew him to the sport. His experience has also moved the high school senior to pursue a degree in robotic engineering. The 17-year-old encourages those who are unfamiliar with the sport to explore it.
“My favorite part is the building, coming up with ideas and figuring out how to make it work,” he said. “When people get attached to it, they enjoy it a lot.”
Birr loves to see the dedication of all of the students and said it’s hard to be around them and not pick up their contagious energy.
The estimated cost to go to national competition is about $15,000. Students raise the money themselves and are still looking for partnerships with local businesses to assist them in their efforts. Joy Birr couldn’t be more proud of them.
“They are a phenomenal group,” she said. “They’ve worked hard and they deserve it.”
For more information about the team, visit their website: www.granitecitygearheads.com.