FIRST Robotics at Cal U

Mar 06, 2022

Cal U to host regional robotics competition March 16-19.

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This spring, groups of trailblazing robotics students from high schools across the country will travel to the California campus for a national competition at the intersection of sports, science and technology.

Innovation will take flight at California’s Convocation Center from March 16-19 during the 2022 Greater Pittsburgh Regional challenge of the FIRST Robotics Competition. This year’s theme – RAPID REACTSM presented by The Boeing Company – challenges teams to use innovative engineering and creative thinking skills to reimagine the future of high-speed travel.

“Competitions like FIRST are highly important to getting students interested in STEM. It develops all these critical skills needed to succeed as a professional in almost any field – and it wraps them in the guise of fun,” said Dr. Jennifer Wilburn, associate professor in California’s Department of Computer Science, Information Systems and Engineering Technology. “Yes, it is hard work, but it is also rewarding. Ideally, if that is how you feel about FIRST, it is how you will feel about your career in similar fields as well.”

In each round of the upcoming competition, alliances of robots will compete to relocate cargo on a tarmac, using tool kits and utilities provided by the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) non-profit organization.

Using science, technology, engineering and math, students will earn points by delivering pods of cargo to predetermined goal zones. Robots will operate autonomously in the first portion of each round, and will subsequently be controlled by the high school teams.

Wilburn, who has served as a judge for the FIRST competition since 2014, said that students must be able to think critically and creatively, manage time and work well in teams. Successful students have an interest in math and science but are also driven to constantly improve.

“Just because you are smart does not mean that you will apply yourself, and without that dedication, you will never expand yourself,” Wilburn said. “Industries and academia both want people who can continue to grow throughout their careers, and that mindset starts long before college.”

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the FIRST Robotics Competition, which offers opportunities for students to interact with professional engineers, build and compete with robots, learn sophisticated software and hardware and compete.

Daphne Frownfelter, FIRST regional director, said that the robotics competition allows high school students to share their knowledge beyond the classroom in “coopertition” – a portmanteau of cooperation and competition.

“This “coopertition” allows them to learn how to work together for a common goal to succeed,” said Frownfelter, who also serves as chief state advocate. “These team members gain the skills, leadership, friendship, scholarship and a ‘botload’ of tools that prepare them for STEM careers.”

Following the Greater Pittsburgh Regional, several teams will advance to the World Championship round, which is scheduled for April 20-23 in Houston. Teams can qualify to earn more than $80 million in college scholarships.

The Greater Pittsburgh Regional is sponsored by host California University, the Heinz Endowments and the Howmet Aerospace Foundation.

As a sponsor and host of the robotics competition, California University is proud to prepare undergraduates for exciting careers in applied engineering and technology.