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Catching up with Adam Bryant during this weekend’s 2015 Colorado FIRST Robotics Regional competition won’t be easy.
With three robots and about 25 high-school students manning each, he will be fully immersed in helping his teams compete against the 52 total teams signed up.
Still, he’s urging his Perficient colleagues to come down to the pit area and chat with the students about the real-world engineering experience the FIRST competition delivers.
“Their journey to get to the competition is a microcosm of what we go through here in the real world with the same challenges, hardships, setbacks, and ultimately triumphs as they go through the process of building a robot and a team to compete with and against the brightest young minds in our country and around the world.”
This year marks Bryant’s 11th in coaching students for FIRST. He’s kept at it for many reasons, but most of all, it’s the pride and sense of accomplishment the competition gives youth. That’s especially true for the students he mentors at a youth corrections facility, Ridge View Academy in Watkins, Colorado.
“So often in their situations, they’re told they can’t do it – that they’re worthless and will never do anything.” Adam hands them a circular saw and his faith that they will.
“What I’m trying to do is just show them that there’s a bigger world out there that they can be a part of related to science and technology and that they don’t have to go back to the same pattern that results in them being at Ridge View in the first place,” says Bryant, a technical lead at Perficient.
His teams found out this year’s task in the beginning of January, and they had six weeks from that point to build their robots completely from scratch. FIRST competitors get a certain number of points for the number of items (this year rectangular containers and foam noodles) their robots can stack, so the students practiced operating them as well.
“What I’ve found makes the biggest difference is the students that are driving the robot,” he says. “I’ve seen teams come with very sophisticated robots and they didn’t have the students as serious or well-prepped as ours, and their fancy robots didn’t do as well as our plain one.”
Two of Bryant’s teams construct robots primarily with aluminum. Resources, however, are scarce at Ridge View, so oftentimes robots are made with wood.
“It’s easier with them because it doesn’t require specialized tools to cut. We can get by with a circular saw or a drill. We have done just as well in the past as robots that were much fancier than ours. It’s an extremely rewarding experience with them because oftentimes they have never run a power tool. Some have never held a screw driver.”
Bryant’s teams have been practicing three to five times per week, and he’s feeling pretty good about this year’s competition. “Last year, we had a simple robot that had limited functionality, and our team was ranked second or third throughout most of the competition. We ended up as the sixth seed team going into the playoffs.”
In the end, it all comes down to the determination and drive of the students and the support of one extremely devoted coach.
We’ll keep you posted on the results.
Learn more about the Colorado FIRST Robotics competition here.
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