“We are certainly off to an exciting first year,” said Judith LaPlante, the team’s coach and PHS technology teacher.
Last week, the PHS robotics team received an unexpected invitation to compete at the April 24 international competition. PHS students Dallas Randall, Tyler Banning, Jordan Morrison, Reece Heinen, Kurt Bullinger, Sara Kindred and Kaitlyn Bonine will travel to St. Louis for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) world championship, along with LaPlante and Deepthi Amarasuriya, a team mentor.
“Being a first-year team, I had no idea we would do this well ... the students are bouncing off the walls with excitement to attend, but we need support to make this happen,” LaPlante said.
The team has received $7,500 in support so far, and students will contribute $1,000 collectively of their own money.
On Tuesday, Park County Commissioners approved $750 for the team’s competition, and Wyoming Lime Producers is contributing $1,000. The Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees voted to contribute $500 for each student and $1,000 to help cover LaPlante’s travel and team registration costs.
An individual or group who donates more than $500 will have their name on the robot.
The team still needs about $1,500, LaPlante said Wednesday.
“This is much closer than I would have expected us to be four days after receiving our invitation to the world championship,” she said.
The Park County Travel Council gave the team almost 400 promotional brochures to hand out to people who attend the St. Louis event.
“We will be working hard to not only promote our program, but to promote our community and to educate people about Wyoming while we are there,” LaPlante said.
For students, the experience is about more than programming a robot or using tools, LaPlante said.
“FIRST is about developing not a just a robot, but a team of people to complete a complicated task. It is a wholistic approach,” she said.
“You need people to coordinate and schedule, to test, to build relationships with other teams, to sew a team banner, etc. We are running a small business.”
The school district’s support has provided seed money as a “start-up,” she said. The school board also voted Tuesday to contribute $2,504 in funds donated by CTA Architects Engineers to the club. That money was from a tax credit on the Southside Elementary Green School funds that CTA received. The robotics team will use the funding toward a robotic arm and underwater robot actvity in class, LaPlante said.
Now, the PHS robotics team needs to grow and develop like a business so they can compete long term, LaPlante said.
“Year one was all about developing a team mentality and understanding the value of the engineering process. I had hoped we had another year before needing to develop the business side of this team, but I won’t complain about our success,” she said.
LaPlante said she hopes they will be able to develop a program that is self-sustaining — something she believes is possible with the right resources and student participation.
The team’s invitation to the world championships last week came on the heels of a successful finish at the state tournament in Casper recently. Students who attended the state competition were Bullinger, Kindred, Bonine, Randall, Banning, Heinen and Morrison.
The team came home with the PTC Design Award and was the runner-up for the Inspire Award.
The design award recognizes elements of the robot that are both functional and aesthetic.
“All successful robots have innovative design aspects; however, the PTC Design Award is presented to teams that incorporate industrial design elements into their solution,” LaPlante said.
The award is sponsored by Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), developers of the CAD tools, Creo and Mathcad.
The Inspire Award recognizes teams that are top contenders for all judging categories and strong competitors on the field.
“I am very proud of my team and their efforts,” LaPlante said. “They all bring different skills to the table and have worked to utilize them to build and run their robot. We have rebuilt our robot from the ground up for each competition, and will be doing it again for worlds.”