In September of 2010, Westminster students interested in the STEM field formed a Science and Engineering Club. During the inaugural year of the club, several members aspired to work on robotics , and began to evaluate the various robotics competitions available to high school students. Through this process of research, the Westminster community initially learned about FIRST. In October 2011 Mr. Paul DeGroot, a Boeing engineer and Westminster father, volunteered to mentor a FRC team and Westminster joined FIRST robotics as team 4256. The team applied for a grant from Boeing and while the grant application went through processing the club began to generate more school interest in robotics with weekly robotics challenges using TETRIX and Mindstorms kits. When word that Boeing would sponsor the team arrived, announcements were made and the word was spread, and quickly the team began to expand. What started out as the dreams of 3 turned into the reality of 27 team members. The team began to organize and attended training at the St. Louis Science Center in December. Twenty Westminster students attended, the largest group in attendance that day. After the NASA kick-off, the race was on to build a fully functioning robot capable of shooting basketballs and balancing on bridges. The following six weeks were filled with late nights and caffeine as they continued engineering, organizing, and leading team 4256.
With the full support of the school administration, Westminster’s FIRST team took off. The FRC team became a catalyst for the introduction of a brand new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math initiative at school. The FRC competition truly inspired our entire community to embrace the role of science and technology in the modern world.
As a rookie team, every step had to be done from scratch. The team leaders quickly began work organizing into sub-teams, coordinating with other school clubs to create a logo, and reaching out to local companies and businesses to build partnerships with industry.
The build season was busy for all team members. The student leaders and mentors led the team through the engineering design process. Brainstorming, prototyping, building, programming, and practicing led to the final robot, which was fully operational at the time of bag and tag! During the entire build season, the public relations and engineering management teams were documenting everything, designing and ordering t-shirts and buttons, preparing materials for awards, and building relationships with other teams in the area. The team held presentations in Westminster Middle School classrooms to introduce the kids to the many opportunities for them in engineering and science. Team leaders even traveled to the Kansas City Regionals to get a feel for the competition and prepare for the St. Louis Regionals.
The team experienced their first regional competition on March 21, 2012. The Cyborg Cats had an excellent performance in the St. Louis Regional Competition. The team competed well with a record of 9 losses and 7 wins with various alliance members. We were then selected by team 1987, the Broncobots, from Lee Summit, Missouri, to continue into the championship rounds. Partnered with team 1987 and 4330, Rambunction from St. Louis, Missouri, the alliance made it to the semi-finals. The Cyborg Cats were part of the 3 rookie teams to make it into the semi-finals, and ranked 17th out of the 43 competing teams. On top of the game success, Westminster’s Cyborg Cats were placed in the top 4 teams for safety and organization at the St. Louis Regional. An amazing conclusion to the team’s excellent Regional Competition run, was when the Cyborg Cats were awarded the Regional Rookie All-Star Award. The Rookie All-Star Award is the most prestigious award given to a rookie team. It recognizes a first year team with outstanding community outreach, safety precautions, team organization, and robot capabilities. This was the team’s ticket into the FIRST Robotics World Competition.
Five short weeks later, the Cyborg Cats entered the FIRST World Competition which was held at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. The team placed 57th out of the 100 teams in the Archimedes division and was honored to be one of the 402 teams competing. We finished our championship play with a record of 3 wins and 6 losses. The team used this experience to fuel excitement for the upcoming seasons.
Our school supported us by helping the team publicize our efforts. Team 4256 was recognized in the school newspaper (The Wildcat Roar), in the alumni publication (Chimes), the St Louis Dispatch, Town and Style Magazine, The West Magazine, the Town and Country Patch, Fox news, the school website and the school facebook page. We were honored to have Siemens interview our team members and add the interviews to their company blog. They were a key part of sharing our success story for the 2012 season.
The Cyborg Cats participation in FIRST has helped our school and community in many ways. The team made a presentation about our FIRST experience at a local boy scout troop and encouraged the boys to get involved in robotics. The team visited middle school classrooms and inspired many students to pursue a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes in high school and to join the Cyborg Cats. The team hosted a STEM outreach event for 5th and 6th grade students. It was a complete success and the kids loved it!
4256 team members have learned a lot about gracious professionalism, working well with others in a professional setting and being able to compete kindly. They have also worked on communication skills, leadership, teamwork, decision making, practical application and respect of ideas. The team learned a lot about the engineering process and business planning as well.
FIRST Robotics has opened doors for our team members to interact with younger students, industry mentors and sponsors, school administrators, and public broadcasting professionals. These experiences have definitely influenced their futures and several team members have changed career paths to include engineering!