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West Valley City Journal

First robotics competition lets high school students show engineering skills

Apr 04, 2018 03:30PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

High school students from around the world compete in the Utah Regional First Robotics Competition of 2018. (U of U College of Engineering)

March 1 saw 52 teams of high school students from as far away as California, Canada and Chile compete head-to-head in the Utah Regional First Robotics Competition at the Maverick Center in West Valley City. 

“It’s just amazing how it works and how involved the learning process is that these young people go through,” said Judy Young, chair of the Executive Advisory Board and former executive director of the Utah Technology Council, who helped start the S.T.E.M. Action Center that focuses on bringing science, technology, engineering and math into schools. Young has been excited to be a part of this organization since she retired in 2015 and began as chair in 2017. 

“I see how it changes these young people’s lives and how it prepares them to work in our workforce,” said Young. 

First Utah with the First Lego League Jr., First Lego League and First Tech Challenge work with students K-8 grade and then middle and high school levels to help train them in programming and building robots using state-of-the-art technology provided by Lego since 1989. Students are given challenges that their robots must complete that are specific to the age groups. 

Each year, the First Lego League teams are asked to create a solution for a problem common to areas of the world—this year it was water shortage. They’re given top-of-the-line software and cutting-edge technology so that they are learning current skills.

“Some of these things haven’t even been sold that much in the marketplace, they’re that new,” said Young, “So that they’re ready to go into the workforce and not outdated.”

At times, these solutions have been patented and picked up by universities to use.

Over the course of their time in the various levels of FLL Jr, FLL, FTC and FRC, students are taught not only computer science, programming and robotics, but welding, CAD, 3D printing and how to work in a professional atmosphere as a team and functioning business. They have to come up with strategies, fundraising, budgeting and other entrepreneurial necessities to enter the workforce. 

Young has been pleased with the confidence that being a part of the program has instilled in these students and knows that thanks to cooperative, out-of-the-box thinking, many of them are ready to begin professional careers in their passions. 

“They’re not intimidated and they’re not afraid,” said Young, “They think that they can conquer the world and isn’t that a wonderful way to set our kids up to go to work.”

The First Utah Regional Robotics Competition is co-sponsored by the University of Utah’s College of Engineering, which got involved in 2009 when Richard Anderson, regional director, got grant funding and started the partnership. Teams from all over spent three days showing off their robots and following the theme, “First Power Up” a combination of robotics and video games, while gaining points for tasks performed. On the second day of competition, the top eight teams pick two other teams, who they have scouts in the stands watching, to be in their alliance for the finals.

A team from Provo High School won the Rookie award which guarantees them a spot to the national competition in Houston later this year. The team of about 17 members, began when a couple of First alums were in town at BYU and separately approached the new principal of Provo High. A 501(c)(3) was formed and with funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation, the team got started getting ready for the FRC. Now they’re working to raise funds for the trip to Texas. 

“They’re determined that they’re going,” said Young. 

West Valley City had their own teams representing, such as the team from Hunter High, coached by Scott Watson.

“He does a wonderful job with those kids,” said Young, “He’s very patient and teaches them wonderful things.”

While most states have all of their teams sponsored through one university, Utah has it spread between the University of Utah who oversees the FRC program, and Weber State, who oversees the FLL Jr., FLL, and FTC programs. 

“We work together as a team promoting all four teams,” said Young, “We are very proud of that and very appreciative of those two universities for the outstanding job that they are doing.”