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Robotics Team Receives Grant from NASA

The Tigertron Robotics Team #5503 will again compete at the FIRST San Antonio competition thanks to a $5,000 grant from NASA FIRST Robotics Sponsorship. The grant covers the team’s registration fees to the spring event. Robotics Club volunteer mentor Mr. Dennis Snyder researched and wrote the grant.

“The grant is designed for teams like us,” said Mr. Snyder, referencing Smithville’s smaller school size and fundraising capabilities. “It’s an expensive proposition to compete. There’s registration, hotel and food for the kids. It adds up in a hurry.”

The team is currently in the middle of building their robot for the upcoming competition. They have six weeks following the January 7th live broadcast meeting detailing the tasks that the robots must perform. Members of the team went to the Dripping Springs event to pick up their robot parts and get instructions.

“It’s a very intense time,” said Mr. Snyder. “When we pick up the box, it’s just a box of parts. There’s no blueprint, nothing to show what the robot should look like. The kids totally design it from scratch.”

Team mentor Mrs. Deana Seidel said that unlike other school competitions such as basketball or football, the students aren’t competing against others, they are thinking of how to raise their own score. FIRST labels the Robotics program “the excitement of sport, the rigors of science.”

Another difference is that when a team needs an item, there is usually many other schools who offer to help. “You’ll hear an announcement that a team needs something and you’ll have four other teams running to help them,” said Mrs. Seidel.

The Robotics Team has grown over the last three years since inception. In the first year, there were eight members, and last year there were 21. This year, the team has 28 students, a lot of which are females, said Mr. Snyder. He credits the program with getting more females involved in the traditionally male Science, Technology, Electronics, Mathematics (STEM) field.

First year Robotics Team mentor and Calculus/Pre-Calculus teacher Mrs. Deana Seidel is the team mentor and has hit the ground running. She also thanks the hard work of Mr. Snyder and his ongoing help with the students, and gives him credit for being available for them.

Mrs. Seidel has had senior members speak to her classes who changed their college major to science and technology after being a part of the Robotics Club. “I’m trying to recruit kids who might not be interested but who have the natural skill set to contribute,” said Mrs. Seidel.

A grant requirement of teams is to reach out to other schools to encourage them to start a Robotics Team. Smithville’s team has spoken to the SISD Junior High and to Taylor Legacy School, where former Tigertron mentor Mr. Craig Wilmont now teaches.

Another grant requirement is that students track their activities online with surveys, interests, future goals and entrance and exit interviews about the experience.

On the website, under strict rules, limited resources and the guidance of volunteer mentors, teams of 25+ students have just six weeks to build and program robots to perform challenging tasks against a field of competitors. They must also raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and perform community outreach. In addition to learning valuable STEM and life skills, participants are eligible to apply for $25+ million in college scholarships.

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