Science, technology, and sports once again collided in Southwest Michigan during this year’s FIRST Robotics District Competition in St. Joseph.
Forty teams representing high schools from across the state gathered earlier this month for the two-day regional event hosted at St. Joseph High School, pitting industrial-sized robots against each other for a chance at advancing one step closer to the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship. Held in the spring, it’s the biggest youth robotics event in the world.
Preparation is extensive. Teams spend months designing and constructing robots made up of a dizzying array of metalwork, mechanisms, and sensors. The students also write grants, code programs, and assemble gameday strategies. “I feel like all of our hard work has finally paid off,” said Hardini Padala, a student at Troy High School whose team, the Troy Hammerheads, shared the win at Saturday’s district finals. ”We’re so happy about it. It’s amazing,” she said in a postgame interview while her team celebrated. On Whirlpool Field (a school gymnasium turned android arena), robots were challenged to a series of predetermined tasks, including collecting and firing foam balls at specific targets to score points. In an equally impressive stunt, the machines, some weighing as much as 125 pounds, attempted to hoist and balance themselves on a pull-up bar at the end of each match. “It teaches our students project-based learning, to work together as a team, and understand real-world values that we see at the corporate-level,” said Joe Taylor, a lead mentor for Benton Harbor High School’s Tech Tigers and a Whirlpool Corporation master technician. “Whirlpool is here to help us every year. Without them, we’d be lost.”
Whirlpool Corporation Provides Students with Opportunities to Succeed in STEM
Whirlpool Corporation has proudly supported FIRST Robotics for more than a decade—from offering sponsorships, providing equipment, and championing employee mentorship.
“At Whirlpool, we’re working every day to improve life at home through innovation. That’s why providing students with opportunities like FIRST Robotics to explore and succeed in STEM-related pursuits, and foster innovation in the next generation, is so important to us,” said Whirlpool Corporation Senior Director of Global Communications Eleanor Reece, who helped kick off the event. This year’s FIRST Robotics Competition is named INFINITE RECHARGE, and is just one of the many challenges FIRST offers internationally to K-12 students to help promote careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. “This competition is a way to show the public what STEM can achieve,” said Dashiel Matlock, a senior at St. Joseph High School. His team, the Average Joe’s, placed ninth in Saturday’s district competition. The experience has him already looking ahead to what’s next. “I want to be an engineer,” he said. “And this helps narrow down what I want to do.”
Editor’s Note: On March 12, 2020, FIRST President Larry Cohen announced the suspension of the current FIRST season and cancellation of both Championship events scheduled for the spring.