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PCSD students build more than just a robot with Team 6355 "Robots Over Parma"
June 10, 2019
This past March, students from the Parma City School District showcased their mechatronic talents at the FIRST Robotics Competition held at the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center.
In partnership with coach Diane Sadowski, a design engineer and owner of FirstFuelCells.com, along with sponsorships from NASA Glenn Research Center, Parker Hannifin Corporation, Progressive Insurance and the PCSD, 14 students from all three high schools had the opportunity to compete on “Team 6355 Robots Over Parma”, designing and building a competition robot.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a worldwide robotic competition that challenges high school students to take their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills to the next level. This was the second year for PCSD students to participate in this competition, and the third year overall for Team 6355.
According to their website, this year’s FIRST competition featured 3,790 teams, with 95,000 students in grades 9-12 participating. The FIRST scholarship program distributed over $80 million in college scholarships, with over 2,000 individual scholarship opportunities. Over 615,000 students in 100 plus countries have participated in FIRST competitions since 1989.
“FIRST Robotics is a worldwide competition, and the Ohio Buckeye Regional, is only one regional out of many regionals across the world,” Sadowski said of the competition. “This team - this year, we added so many people, they were mostly all rookies, except for a couple of them. So, they were pretty much starting from scratch. We did about two months of pre-training with them starting in October in preparation of January 5, the Ohio FIRST Buckeye Regional Kickoff at Tri-C Metro, downtown.”
FIRST competitions are not some “BattleBots” style competition where teams destroy each other’s robots. Instead, FIRST Robotics proposes a challenge for teams to complete in a certain amount of time.
In 2019, the theme was “Destination: Deep Space”, where teams had to complete a number of tasks, such as depositing “cargo” into a rocket ship. Presenting even more challenges for teams was having limited visibility times with their robot, and working in alliance with other teams to achieve goals and frustrate opposing teams.
The FIRST competition does more than enhance STEM skills, specifically in the area of mechatronic engineering. The competition helps students gain workforce development skills such as communication, conflict resolution, time management and problem-solving.
For Sadowski and the many mentors who helped Team 6355, one challenge is figuring out where to best place students.
“You really have to get to know your kids,” Sadowski explained. “Building up a mechatronics team, where can we put them within this group? It takes this whole team to do this. There is programming, coding, electronics, 3-D modeling. And some of the best kids, their parents taught them how to build and fix things.”
For Tyler Tokarcik, a senior at Parma High, building, fixing and engineering things has always been a family affair. Tokarcik, an assistant coach on the team and mechanical lead, enjoyed the experience and challenges that Team 6355 brought to him.
“The most enjoyable part was watching the robot run for the first time,” Tokarcik expressed. “Watching it move and watching each function run properly was definitely the most enjoyable.”
With all the support given to team from the various sponsors and mentors, students had many opportunities to network and interact with new technologies and tools not typically available to them in school or at home.
“Usually when I build stuff at home, I don’t have all the resources that I need, so I just figure it out and go with it,” Tokarcik expressed. “Here we had all the resources we need and anything we needed to build the robot. It was just really cool and awesome to have whatever we needed to to make our design come to life instead of altering the design around what you had.”
At the 2019 Buckeye Regional, Team 6355 finished 28th, the best finish since Robots Over Parma debuted in 2017. In addition, all eight seniors on the team graduating this year will be attending college to study some kind of engineering. Tokarcik will be attending Cleveland State University to study Mechanical Engineering Technology.
“It’s kind of like a family more than a club,” Sadowski said. “Everybody doing this is going to stay connected to it. They’ll come back and let us know in college what they are working on. And it’s always good for me to understand if we aligned them right or not, because they will go far if they are in the right place.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Members of Team 6355, “Robots Over Parma” are recognized at the May 9 Board of Education meeting. The team worked this year to design, build and then compete at the FIRST Robotics competition in March.