By Steve Sears
The Mount Olive High School Robotics, M.O.R.T. 11 team recently competed in the FRC (First Robotics Competition) World Robotics Competition in Detroit, capturing a Pit Safety Award.
“The judges when giving us the award said that the competition itself was extremely hard as there are world class teams, but they wanted to reward us with recognition for embracing the culture of safety through outreach and programs,” says Megha Thyagarajan, Safety Lead for the team since 2017. “I was beyond thrilled for I could not believe that out of all the teams in the world, we received this award. It was a testament for the work that we’ve done this season and an inspiration to work even harder next season.”
Per Thyagarajan, being Safety Lead entails a great deal of work, responsibility and leadership skills. “I have to ensure that people follow the protocols set in action for their own benefit. Although it becomes difficult nearing the competition season because everyone has a rush of adrenaline and all they think about is competition. In these moments, it is my job to remind them of simple things such a tying up their hair or wearing their safety glasses. Other than the basics of ensuring safety towards our students, I try to share safety as a general concept. This means that our team participates in safety outreach spreading it to our community and others alike. All in all, being Safety Lead can be stressful, but it’s a rewarding position for keeping your teammates safe and alive.”
There are ways ways a team can qualify for world competitions. M.O.R.T. 11 participated in two district events where they earned enough points to qualify for district championships. “Although, our team participates in a regional event (bigger than a district) outside of our general area to provide our team with more experience and opportunity. At the regional event, we were placed 10th and got picked by the first alliance. With this alliance, we were able to make it as finalists of the entire regional and we then received a wildcard that let us qualify for worlds. At worlds itself, there are divisions with around 60 teams, if you win your division you then compete against the division winners to get crowned World Champions,” explains Thyagarajan.
Senior Lauren Turi, who has been a member of the team since her freshman year, is one of two Student Technical Leads. “The function of a technical lead is to oversee the other student leads and all projects pertaining to the technical side of the team. The main project is the production of the robot that must be ready to compete within six weeks.”
Although Robotics is offered as part of curriculum, M.O.R.T. 11 is its own club independent of that class. It’s also time consuming. “Robotics is something that takes up every bit of free time so balancing schoolwork can definitely be a challenge,” says Turi. “I try to get as much done in school as I can, whether that’s during lunch or when I have free time during class because I know I won’t have time to do it later.”
Matthew Otey is the four-year Lead Mentor/Project Manager for FRC Teams 11 & 193, and also is a teacher of Physics First, Chemistry, and Integrated Science. “The robotics teams, M.O.R.T. 11, has been around for 23 years. Our junior varsity team, M.O.R.T. Beta 193, has been around for seven years and they were the first “junior varsity” FRC team in the world,” he proudly states. He also sees beyond the competition and speaks to the overall benefit. “This program is important because it is a real-life application of many different skill sets on both the engineering and business fronts. The teams operate like a small start-up company with R&D, budgeting, communication, prototyping, manufacturing, testing, marketing, and community outreach. Even more so, this program is the fullest extent of what education these students can experience in their time at the high school, tasking them to think on the fly and work with each other to overcome enormous obstacles and successfully apply a wide range of skill sets through collaboration and perseverance.”
The future for the Robotics program is to further work within the community to strengthen STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education within Mount Olive and its neighboring communities. “Furthermore,” says Otey,” we are extending our network further, creating more connections with teams from our state as well as our country and internationally.”