The university hosted 68 teams of seventh to twelfth graders as they competed in the Mississippi FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge Championship, the state championship for robotics clubs in Mississippi schools.
“Teams compete by designing and building a robot to complete a different challenge in competitions throughout the year,” Mannie Lowe, director of the Center for Mathematics and Sciences Education (CMSE), said.
Lowe said that every September, teams receive the new game challenge for that year. The game involves a series of challenges that the robots must overcome. The teams then have three months to build a new robot that will succeed at these challenges.
This year, the game involved robots gathering “sky stones,” or foam rectangular blocks, and stacking them on top of each other. Points were assigned by the number of stones stacked and additional challenges the robots overcame during the two minutes.
“Teams are scored based on their physical robot’s effectiveness, engineering notebooks, which describe their journey of development from start to present, their impact in the community in the areas of STEM and lastly, this thing called gracious professionalism,” said Alice Steimle, CMSE associate director.
Lowe added that gracious professionalism is good sportsmanship in the robotics competition.
“We are all here to be our best,” Lowe said. “It is the entire ethos of our program at FIRST. This idea that you treat your competitors with the highest form of respect. There is an entire award and judging category devoted to it.”
This is only one of the many parts that Lowe said he believes makes FIRST an essential role for the development of adolescents.
“Robots are the tool that brings the kids in. They build and experiment with this robot, and then we get to come in and say, ‘Let’s talk about the math or science behind what you just created,’” Lowe said. “They are drawn in from a creative, innovative, engineering, social and problem-solving angle. It is creating the best professional possible.”
Wait For It, the team from Ripley, came away second runner-ups to the Inspire Award and the winners of the competition aspect of the weekend. They also took home three of the 13 awards offered at the statewide competition this weekend.
“At this competition, we found out we qualified for the World’s that will be in Houston, Texas, this year. That is the best part of this experience, seeing our hard work pay off,” senior Noah Gregory, a member of Wait For It said. “I am completely different because I am involved in robotics.”
Senior Lauren Blacksher, Gregory’s teammate and driver of the winning robot from the weekend, agreed.
“I have public speaking skills, problem-solving skills among so many others because I do robotics. I am so grateful for this experience. Now, I have been selected for Dean’s List, which means I am one of three people from all of Mississippi being sent to World’s to represent the state,” Blacksher said.
The CMSE is an affiliate for the FIRST Tech Challenge Mississippi chapter and helped host the event on Friday and Saturday.