A California Student Reflects on Robots

Written by Jessy Berman, President of the Robotics Club at Tehachapi High in California.

Robotics has always been a part of my life, before I even really knew it. In fifth grade, the robotics team came to my elementary school to show us their new robot. My eyes were wide open and my mind was blown! I thought it was the coolest thing ever! These kids got to build their own ROBOT!! I have always had an interest in how things work and how things are made, but seeing the robotics team as a kid made me want to be just like them.

I had a lot of friends on our school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team who loved it so much, and they tried to convince me to join. All I could think was, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The next Saturday, I learned all about programming, electronics, mechanics, fiber glassing, and so much more! I was in love! Since that day, robotics has been one of the biggest parts of my life.

Being in robotics isn’t a piece of cake; there’s sometimes a lot of stress involved. The first Saturday of every January, FIRST Robotics introduces all the FIRST Robotics Competition teams to a brand new challenge. This year, our challenge is to build a robot that can pick up a ball, then go through “defenses” (such as a rock wall, draw bridge, a see saw, and many other obstacles). Once past the defenses, our robot is supposed to either throw a ball into an 8-foot goal on the top of the “castle,” or push a ball into lower goal at the bottom of the “castle.” The bot is then supposed to scale the castle walls to earn more points. Our bot is teamed up with two others and we work together to defeat the opposing teams’ castle.

Our robot this year looks like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Building this robot wasn’t easy. My team and I usually worked until eight at night, and when we recently received our new materials, team members were here until midnight! To build the bot, we used a composite base, and we’ve created custom brackets with the metal mill made possible with support from Think It Up. We cut wood pieces for the robot’s launcher. We worked hard to complete everything by the February 16 deadline!

To keep everyone involved, we make sure all new members get a chance to try everything at least once, and if they really enjoy a particular activity then we give them more jobs in that area. Students get a chance to practice on other robots for other competitions before being thrown in to the BIG competition in January.

As president of this team, I’ve learned a lot about leadership. First, be responsible. It takes a lot of responsibility to run a team, or any business. Next, it’s important to have a level head. Leaders should also have respect for those around them. My teammates and I have a lot of respect for each other. Above all, I always make sure that I am willing to hear what my teammates have to say. All ideas can be improved upon, so I truly believe the biggest part of being a leader is listening to others and valuing their input.

Think It Up has dramatically helped our team. Not only did it allow us to show the whole nation what robotics is and what it does during last fall’s Think It Up telecast, but it helped us reach out to everyone in our own community. Our team has been ALL over Facebook, in all the newspapers around us, and been interviewed by multiple news stations. Being involved with Think It Up helped our outreach program become bigger than ever. Using this publicity, our team has started new programs, gained new members, and received more funding!!

Working with the robotics team has taught me so many useful skills for the future. Thanks to all of the programs I’ve led, I’ve learned more about public speaking, teamwork and communication. This team has also given me many new opportunities. I’ve had an internship at Lockheed Martin Skunkworks, The National Test Pilot School, and recently been offered an internship at NASA after I graduate! I now have the chance to accomplish goals I never thought were possible. This team has completely changed my life.

I aim to be a mechanical engineer and study at either Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or Fresno State, but I’d like to begin at a community college to save money. Robotics has given me mechanical, electrical, and programming skills that most people going into engineering don’t have until they take a class for it. I am EXTREMELY thankful for this head start, and for all of the opportunities I’ve received by pursuing my passion.

Learn more at thinkitup.org