Thursday, December 18, 2014

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High School Students Take Over Javits Center for Robot Competition

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High School students from around the region and around the globe have taken over the Javits Center this weekend to do battle, robot-style, at the FIRST competition.

The New York City FIRST Robotics Regional Competition is underway, and students are having a ball.

"Of course it's fun! It's robotics!" said Jorge Garcia of Frederick Douglass Academy II.

Matthew Nieves of the East Harlem Tutorial Program agrees. While building a robot once seemed like science fiction, the reality is, after three years in FIRST, he's now the team's primary builder.

"I always thought it was cool," he said. "Like, you see it on TV. It's like, 'Wow. That's so awesome. I wish I could do that one day.' And then, when they offered it to me, I was like, 'Uh, yeah! Not turning this down.'"

In this game, called Aerial Assist, the robots shoot and score. They get low points for low goals and higher points for the upper ones, and a bonus if the ball sails over a truss.

"It feels really good that you got, everything you worked hard for, you got it done," said Kris Lopez of McKee High School.

Officials say the goal of the competition is for students to learn.

"They learn about teamwork. They learn about gracious professionalism. They learn how to solve problems. They learn critical thinking," said Pat Daly, executive director of NYC FIRST. "And they have a great time."

Mind you, teamwork doesn't just mean working together within your team. This year's game depends upon having a strong alliance, which means that students need to be able to work with complete strangers if they hope to have a shot at nationals.

That's because the highest points are scored when teams pass the ball to one another. It requires instant teamwork, which is easier than it sounds because students said they've already cracked the code.

"Because we talk the same way, we know the same things, we share the same emotions," said Eliel Gomez of Thomas Edison High School. "We have the same passion for robotics."

That's FIRST's other goal, the big one.

"Most importantly, that they get excited about science and technology," Daly said. "That's the idea."

It's an idea that is clearly making all the right connections.

"I didn't know I wanted to be an engineer before FIRST robotics," said Precious Siddiquee of Staten Island Tech.

"I want to either be an electrical engineer or civil engineer," said Daniel Cush of George Westinghouse High School.

"If this is really what you want to do for the rest of your life, there's no better way than having the experience now," said Nolan Leung of Francis Lewis High School.

The teams that survive this weekend's regionals will meet in St. Louis for the national competition at the end of this month.

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