SPAWAR-Mentored High School Robotics Team Wins Division Title at World Championship
By Elisha Gamboa
A group of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) volunteers mentored a local high school robotics team to the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics World Championship in Houston, Texas April 18-21.
The team, Santana High School's Robotics Team 3965, "Sultans from Santee, Calif., competed against more than 400 teams from 74 countries, winning their division and making it to the world championship semi-finals.
SPAWAR encourages students to pursue degrees and careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through the use of hands-on activities, real life challenges and exciting competitions.
"Our goal is to grow and foster the next generation of innovators," said Wanda Curtis, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific FIRST robotics outreach coordinator. "STEM affects everything around us; it is what is going to make our nation competitive in today's increasing technological environment."
Largely supported by their coaches, mentors, sponsors and parents, this was Santana High School's third appearance at the World Championship since forming in 2012.
Made up of 25 or more students from grades 9-12, FIRST Robotics teams work together to build and program robots to perform challenging tasks against a field of competitors. Additionally teams must raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills and perform community outreach.
"In robotics you learn a lot of skills that will help you in the future," said Emily Parise, a student and FIRST Robotics team member. "You learn about all kinds of things -- engineering, how to write a grant, how to communicate. It brought me out of my shell and forced me to do things I didn't think I could do."
In addition to Santana High School's Robotics Team, SPAWAR volunteers coached and mentored a number of other robotics teams competing this season, including six FIRST LEGO League Junior teams (grades K-3), 38 FIRST LEGO League teams (grades 4-8), 11 FIRST Tech Challenge teams (grades 7-12) and 13 FIRST Robotics Competition teams (grades 9-12).
In addition to Santana High School, five other SPAWAR mentored teams competed in the World Championships, with three students receiving the honor to compete for an individual award.
"The point of all this is to help our SPAWAR employees to get out in the community and interact with these young people," said Brian Williams, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific FIRST Robotics outreach coordinator. "Our employees get the satisfaction of helping and mentoring, and the students get to learn valuable skills and lessons from our SPAWAR professionals. It's a win-win. And some day, we hope these students will want to come work for SPAWAR, and bring with them the skills they have learned to help build a stronger, more competitive Navy."
FIRST Robotics is just one of the many ways SPAWAR will continue to promote STEM in classrooms throughout the region. Other efforts include co-hosting a FIRST LEGO League tournament with Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., the AUVSI Annual RoboSub Competition, San Diego Fleet Week events, summer internship opportunities, STEM demonstrations at local schools and judging science fairs.