Engineering Students Mentor High School Robotics Team
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Engineering Students Mentor High School Robotics Team

On March 6, the robotics team from Harding High School, in Bridgeport Conn., celebrated as their robot took on rivals at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). It was a great accomplishment for the team, that almost had to withdraw because of a lack of mentors – a role that Fairfield University School of Engineering students filled this semester. 

Emily Yale ’18, a mechanical engineering student and the vice president of the Society of Automotive Engineers Club, said, “I wasn't about to let an FRC team go down on my watch, so I had to get involved.” 

School of Engineering Dean, Bruce Berdanier, PhD, encouraged his students to become mentors when he learned that Harding would have to withdraw unless they found volunteers that could offer more technical support. With backing from Dean Berdanier and the Office of Campus Ministry, eight students went to visit the Harding High School team three days a week to help them build their robot. 

The FIRST Robotics Competition is an event that combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Participating teams build and program industrial-size robots to compete in a difficult field game. Teams are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand and build their team-working skills, all while following strict rules on an intensive six-week timeline. 

The competition officially began in January and will run until April. Students had until the end of February to build a robot and sign up for events. Spark City (the Bridgeport team) signed up to compete in two events — one in March, held in Waterbury and one in April, held in Hartford. 

As mentors, the engineering students provided guidance on how the team should approach building a robot. The best advice the college students offered included a mix of practical and conceptual tips. “I told the students to ask a lot of questions, stay calm at competitions and make sure the robot bumpers are on tight,” said Yale. 

The Waterbury competition was an exciting day for the team. Spark City’s robot had a good showing and, following a list of redesigns, they will compete again this weekend in Hartford. 

Yale said, “It was great to see a working robot out on the field from a team that had almost had to withdraw, and the students loved the energy and the excitement.”    

The partnership will continue in the following years. Dr. Ryan Munden, associate dean of the School of Engineering, will start a robotics service learning class in 2017, where Fairfield students learn basic robotics concepts while mentoring the Harding Robotics Team. Dr. Munden said, “Robotics is such an exciting way to get involved in Engineering. We are building this great partnership with Harding, where Fairfield students get to serve younger students in the community in a really great way and help forge a team that will inspire students for years to come.” 

Yale said the class will be a great way to build enthusiasm among the younger generation. “We’ve all enjoyed working with each other,” Yale said. "And because we’re close in age, the Harding students can see that college is an option, that science is cool and that anyone can learn how to build a robot.” 

Photo of Harding High School robot. Contributed by Kim Eckhardt ( 
Photo of Harding High's team, Spark City. Photos from the April competition

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Last modified: Thu, 07 Apr 2016 13:33:24 EDT

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