UC Davis to host regional robotics competition

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology will be hosting the third annual UC Davis robotics competition as a qualifier for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) national robotics competition Mar. 20 to 22.

Approximately 40 teams from Northern California, averaging 20 high school students per team, will be competing in this weekend’s event.

In addition to being an exciting event to watch, the event brings a number of talented and motivated high school students to campus, said Karen McDonald, director of the UC Davis engineering program and event coordinator, in an e-mail interview.

The event was created in order to encourage high school students to pursue their education after graduation. Currently 438 scholarships offer a total of $8 million to students who excel in the competition through a variety of institutions.

Although it’s a heated competition, it is really designed to develop teamwork, gracious professionalism and linkages between students, teachers and working professionals who serve as mentors, McDonald said.

Students must fundraise $8,000 to purchase the equipment necessary to build the robots. After six weeks of building and preparing, the students must then ship the robot to UC Davis.

The event is not just for prospective engineering students, said Gary Ford, associate vice provost and professor of computer and electrical sciences. It’s an interesting idea to get students involved in a robotics program. It covers anything from engineering to marketing. [They] have to raise enough money to build a robot, figure out how to ship it to a regional competition and they have to give presentations on [their robot].

The event parallels the spirit of a sporting event both in character and performance, Ford said. The robots compete in athletics-inspired events while the team and its supporters cheer from the sidelines, decked out in their high schools’ colors.

It’s an interesting approach, Ford said. In our society we get so excited about sports. This is built around a sports paradigm … surrounded with all the usual trappings of a sports event. Maybe this is what makes it easier for students to get involved.

An increasing number of regional competitions in the state has led to a slight decrease in participation at the UC Davis regional competition, said Randy Lam, FIRST regional director.

Teams learn cooperation, the significance of verbal communication and articulation, time management, creativity and fundraising skills, Lam said. The chairman’s award for community building is the highest award given at the competition, although one-third of the participating teams will receive other awards.

Students are excited and quite serious about this competition and become focused and consumed with their contributions to their team. Lam said. There’s no other vehicle that is provided for these ‘geeks’ to have such an intense ‘you’re on the field, the spotlight’s on you and you’re competing now’ experience.

The event is still looking for additional volunteers to help; no experience is necessary. Anyone who is interested should contact Rene Maldonado at rjmaldonado@ucdavis.edu.

 

LAUREN STEUSSY and CHARLES HINRIKSSON can be reached at campus@californiaagie.com.

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