Indian River Robotics Club reflects on success of past year | Education

PHILADELPHIA – The culmination of countless hours, thousands of lines of code and a whole lot of determination, the Indian River Robotics Club finished up this season with a competition to remember.

On March 6, the club’s six students competed their robots – three students and one robot to a team – and ranked higher than they ever had before.

The championship competition, called the NY Excelsior Regional Mohawk Valley Community College Championship, was held at MVCC in Utica. The robots are coded to complete preset tasks and once the approximately 30-second autonomous portion has finished, the students take control. For each task completed by their robots, points are accumulated. Indian River Central School teachers Dustin K. Burdick and Tyna Meeks coach the teams.

“It’s one of those things where they are willing to work so hard and sacrifice so much of their life,” Mr. Burdick said of his students. “For whatever reason, they really enjoy doing this. The robot kind of becomes an extension of themselves. ”

Preparation for the competition began in early September, with the Robotics Club meeting for about two hours every day after school until March. Students also worked during free periods and lunches, as well as the occasional weekend.

Indian River competed against teams from all over the state. The competition narrowed from more than 150 teams in the Excelsior Region League down to about 28 vying for the top spot. One of Indian River’s teams came in second overall in the tournament, with the highest score – 280 points – in the state. The other team placed 15th overall in the Excelsior League as, unfortunately, their robot disconnected in the last match.

Robotics Club members who competed this year were seniors Vanessa M. Wing, Evan M. Young and Hunter J. Horton; junior Alexander J. Billings; sophomore Maya V. Flemmings; and freshman Catherine Vazquez-Figueroa. Evan and Vanessa were the team captains. It has yet to be decided who will fill the roles once they graduate. All participants this year were returning competition veterans except for Maya and Catherine.

At the beginning of each year, the teams dismantle the robot from the previous year and start anew as there’s a new problem to solve each year. They code everything and build the robots completely from scratch using their own ideas and computer-aided designs.

Mr. Burdick’s students, including the Robotics Club, are self-driving and require little oversight while working. He said they teach him more than he teaches them, which is why every year the teams get better. The teaching, he said, has a “snowball effect of mentorship from the older students to the younger students.”

After graduation, longtime friends Evan and Hunter will attend Rochester Institute of Technology for mechatronics engineering. Alexander said he wants to go to college for mechanical engineering.

“I already knew that I wanted to do something with engineering or mechanics, and then I joined the club and I found out that I really like doing electrical work and mechanical work, not so much coding,” Hunter said. “I’m glad it’s prepared me to be an engineer and I’m looking forward to even volunteering at future competitions and seeing how all this goes.”

Vanessa joined the club because she walked into the wrong room on orientation day in 10th grade after moving to the area from Maine. She said she was impressed with all the robotic equipment because her former school didn’t have any. While she won’t be attending school for engineering, she said the skills she’s learned will be helpful later in life.

Seeing the successes of his students, their motivation and how Robotics Club allows for their creativity to flow, Mr. Burdick has realized the importance of the program. He has presented across the state – and in some others – to try and spread the message. The Indian River Maker Space includes nearly a dozen 3D printers to make almost anything imaginable, including parts for robots used in competition and a replica of the droid R2-D2 from Star Wars.

“I think we have a very unique program and I think we have one of the best programs in the state, I really do.” Burdick said. “For the small little rural school of Indian River to have something like this, I think it’s pretty awesome.”

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