2009 Chairman’s SubmissionThe Lamar Robotics Team, known as the DiscoBots, formed in December of 2007. Despite the setback of not receiving a NASA grant, the team’s mentors rallied together to locate the necessary funds to start a team. The team formed right before winter break, just in time to recruit members and attend kick-off. The first day of build season was the first time most members encountered robotics. We used our mentors' garage tools and had less than $1000 to spend on the robot. After only six short weeks, we had built a robot in a physics classroom that would take us to the semifinals, a website that would win Best Website, and a team that would win the Judges’ Award. Even in the midst of the frenzy of build season, we learned skills as simple as applying chain tension and as complex as programming a microcontroller.
FIRST has provided a unique creative and intellectual outlet for students at our school. However, the process of establishing the robotics program has not been simple or straightforward. Our principal was against the idea of funding a Lamar Robotics team until we secured funding from an outside source. During our rookie year, we struggled to find funding, facilities, and materials. However, as we demonstrated the power of FIRST through our team's awards and growth, we have gained the support of our principal. We are now partnered with the administration in efforts to increase engineering education in our school. With the guidance of our engineering mentors, Lamar has begun to incorporate engineering and technology into the out-dated architecture curriculum. As of 2009, the curriculum has incorporated computer aided design (CAD) instead of drafting boards. The planned changes for 2010 include physics and robotics related CAD design. Our mentors were able to work with our principal to hire a new teacher for the start of the robotics curriculum.
As an inner-city school, Lamar has a diverse student body. The team is almost equally composed of Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Caucasian students. In addition to being racially diverse, the team has an unusually strong female presence. Over 70% of the team leaders are girls, and girls form the majority of the core team.
Being a largely minority school where a significant portion of the school does not matriculate to college presents a unique set of problems that FIRST can address. Through robotics, we have been able to catch the interest of students not academically interested in science and math. The hands-on FIRST experience has inspired students, many who were not initially planning to attend college, to pursue science and technology in school. Five of our seniors in robotics were undecided on attending college in the Spring of 2008. After robotics, all five of those seniors are currently pursuing a science/technology degree at the University of Houston.
Through this hectic first year experience we not only learned these valuable technical skills, but we also learned the importance of teaching new members before the start of build season. To help teach our new members for the 2009 season, we decided to participate in the VEX Robotics Competition. This smaller scale competition allowed students to learn about programming and designing robots on a lower cost level. During the fall, the newer members of the team focused on building and designing the VEX robots. The veteran members of the team used their knowledge from the 2008 season to mentor the new members. In addition to starting our own VEX team, we helped start VEX teams at other schools and hosted the 1st official Houston VEX Regional. Nearly twenty teams from across Texas and Mexico participated in the competition. Through VEX, the DiscoBots helped spread the benefits of technology to schools where larger scale FIRST programs are inaccessible. The veteran members and mentors planned and ran the competition, leaving the new members to work independently on their VEX robot.
COMMUNITYAs a team, we understand the importance of demonstrating robotics to the general community. In order to inspire interest in technology, we have been especially committed to education and working with children. We have begun building a partnership with Chick-fil-A, where we have held three robotics demonstrations. We attended their Tuesday Night Family Night, where about fifty families came together for a night of fun. We guided the parents through the process of starting FLL teams. Additionally, we are building a partnership with Texas Instruments, where we have demonstrated our robot multiple times. We have educated their employees about what we do and have recruited mentors for other teams in Houston. By demonstrating our robot at the annual Bring Your Child to Work day, we also reached out to their families. We also bring our robot to community events and festivals such as the Sally Ride Festival, Maker Faire in Austin, and the Yuri Night celebration.
We also demonstrated robots at elementary school carnivals. These demonstrations have led to our work with the FIRST LEGO League program. In the summer of 2008, we established FIRST LEGO League Teams at The Rice School and Lanier Middle School and have been mentoring these teams throughout the FLL season. Additionally, we began mentoring the St. John's School FLL team, a second year team, in fall of 2008. We have also held workshops to train FLL teams. Over forty mentors and students attended one such workshop at the University of Houston. We plan to continue and expand our FLL mentoring efforts in hopes of changing middle school students' perception of science and technology.
In addition to public demonstrations, we use our robot as a vehicle to serve to community. We brought our robot to Texas Children’s Hospital in hopes of brightening the patients’ day. This demonstration was a unique program at the hospital, and the patients greeted the robots with fascination. Although our intention was to provide a fun activity, many patients also became interested in robotics.
ALL ABOUT FIRSTThe DiscoBots are all about FIRST. The principles of FIRST have guided our development from the very beginning. As much as we enjoy the robots and intense competition, we’re even more committed to the principle of Gracious Professionalism and all it encompasses. We strive to fulfill FIRST’s vision of mutual gain among competitors by helping others in the FIRST community and beyond. We are concerned with improving the robotics community as a whole more than the advancement of our own team. At our first regional competition, we helped other local rookie teams with their drivetrains and electronics, even as we navigated our way through fixing our robot for the first time in a competition setting. Prior to the 2009 build season, we held seminars to ensure that other teams would have the necessary training for the upcoming season. As this is only our second year, we are still familiar with the obstacles and experiences encountered by rookie teams. This means we can provide realistic and accessible guidance to teams facing the same issues we faced last year. Thus, during the 2009 build season, we reached out to local rookie teams, offering them mentors and assistance, and inviting them to work in our developing robotics workshop. We helped teams such as 2664, 2956, and 1484 throughout the build season. We also organized a Houston Scrimmage a few days before shipping the robot. We helped rookie teams get a driving robot for the Scrimmage day.
In the spirit of FIRST’s true goal, our mentors have inspired students to pursue further education and careers in science and technology. For example, our mentors gave a tour of Rice University's machine shop and different research labs. We also were able to attend another tour of the fabrication facilities at Texas Instruments. By sharing their real-world experience, our mentors have inspired students to pursue these fields in the future.
TXFIRSTWe embraced websites as a powerful technology tool through the guidance of our mentors. We have used the website connections to help unify Texas teams in the concepts of FIRST. As a rookie team, we found it difficult to locate relevant and specific information about our regional. Due to the breadth of resources available for teams, we found it necessary to create a TXFIRST.ORG portal that would unify these resources in a way that was accessible to teams who were unfamiliar with the intricacies of FIRST. Therefore we talked to the regional director about starting the txfirst.org website so other Texas teams can easily find information about FIRST related to Texas. We also created dallas.txfirst.org and houston.txfirst.org
MENTOR SEARCHFIRST is not just about the robots, it is also about the learning process. The unique mentoring process is integral to the success of the FIRST program. Volunteer mentors from the engineering community educate students about engineering through their hands-on guidance. Unfortunately, teams are not always able to locate these valuable resources. To aid teams in this difficult process, we established the MentorSearch non-profit organization. The MentorSearch website connects teams and willing mentors. To recruit mentors for this program, we have held multiple demonstrations at companies, such as Texas Instruments and Rice University
We feel that Inner City schools are at a huge disadvantage to most of the wealthy suburb schools involved in the FIRST competition. Our team last year had very little money, tools or space to build robots. However our team was able to find two mentors that demonstrated how to build a successful team. Unfortunately many of the largely minority schools do not have mentors to help guide their team. We have shown that Mentor Search database and direct contact with companies is a viable way to find mentors. We are going to continue our search for mentors until all teams around Texas and beyond have good mentor connections.
2587 Chairman's Award Video Submission from Lamar Robotics on Vimeo.