2015 FIRST Robotics Competition: Challenges from an Inner-City School

June 5, 2015
Inner-city competitors in the FIRST Robotics competition face multiple challenges, particularly in terms of resources.
Rochester's Team 1450 at the 2015 FIRST Robotics competition.

Participating in FIRST can be particularly tricky for resource-challenged inner-city schools, but the rewards can be immense. Sara Walter, team mentor for Rochester’s Team 1450, said, “Logistics are a big challenge. We are not supported by our school, so we have to find buses, hotels, and food when going to competitions. Working on a weekend requires a custodian to unlock the school and be there while we work. This is often not taken into consideration for the budget and the team must solicit the school for a weekend custodian. This is why we are seeking to get recognized as a varsity sport so the robotics team can get into the budget.”

For some of the students it has a greater impact that people may not understand. Rochester reported that only 9% of black males who attend the Rochester city schools graduate. Walter said, “Today we have several students in college that may not have graduated high school had they not been motivated by this competition. There is a mentality that being smart is not cool and you have to be in sports or music. The FRC gives a much-needed outlet to students that may become outcasts for just wanting to learn.” Their economic position is visible in their robot. “Other schools have much more complex designs with a list of supporters painted on the robot and all over the team’s T-shirts. Our design is as stripped down as we can get. Despite this, our team is amazing, and we do well with what we have,” Walter said.

About the Author

Jeff Kerns | Technology Editor

Studying mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), he worked in the Polymer Research Lab. Utilizing RIT’s co-op program Jeff worked for two aerospace companies focusing on drafting, quality, and manufacturing for aerospace fasteners and metallurgy. He also studied abroad living in Dubrovnik, Croatia. After college, he became a commissioning engineer, traveling the world working on precision rotary equipment. Then he attended a few masters courses at the local college, and helped an automation company build equipment.

Growing up in Lancaster County, PA he always liked to tinker, build, and invent. He is ecstatic to be at Machine Design Magazine in New York City and looks forward to producing valuable information in the mechanical industry. 

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