Robots FIRST for Clarke Students

Clarke County technology students are developing state-of-the-art engineering skills thanks to the leadership of technology instructor Edward Novak. More than twenty of Clarke County High School’s budding technologists will work with professional engineers this summer to build and compete with a robot of their own design using sophisticated software and hardware. If successful, the CCHS robotic designs could earn a place in the robotic World Championship as well as a shot at qualifying for over $12 million in college scholarships for the student designers.

Novak and his engineering whiz kids are currently raising funds for their third straight year of designing and building robots for the FIRST Robotics Competition (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) to be held next April in Richmond.

CCHS robotics team with the newly painted FIRST logo done by the Art Department

“This is the third year that we are involved with FIRST,” Novak said. “The Clarke County Educational Foundation funded us the first year, NASA last year, and this year we are securing our own funding.”

FIRST’s mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills. The program also tries to inspire innovation through well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Novak said that he was contacted earlier in the spring by Workforce Solutions who suggested that grant money was available from the National Association of Manufacturers “Dream It – Do It” education fund. “Dream It, Do It” is a nationwide effort supported by NAM that provides teachers with resources to educate students about careers in manufacturing.

Novak applied for the NAM grant and received $3000, a big step toward the $5,000 needed to fund the FIRST competition.

“JC Penney is giving us $1000, so now we are just $1000 away from having our entry fee,” Novak said last week. “We have some funds from last year that should help us with sundry items. The students will build and sell picnic tables in the spring to pay for the cost of lodging.”

Robot operating at FIRST competition - Photo courtesy FIRST

Novak expects at least 22 students will participate in the competition.

FIRST was created in 1989 by founder Dean Kamen to promote his vision of “transforming our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Kamen is an inventor, entrepreneur and an advocate for science and technology. As an inventor, he holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide. While still a college undergraduate, Kamen invented the first wearable infusion pump, which rapidly gained acceptance from such diverse medical specialties as chemotherapy, neonatology and endocrinology. In 1976 he founded his first medical device company, AutoSyringe, Inc., to manufacture and market the pumps. At age 30, he sold that company to Baxter International Corporation. By then, he had added a number of other infusion devices, including the first wearable insulin pump for diabetics.

In addition to the annual robotics competition FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

Novak said that he is ecstatic about participating in the upcoming FIRST competition.

“One of our biggest concerns is where our funding will come from, so it is nice when all of the pieces start coming together,” Novak said. “The competition is in April and we will be starting work in January to get ready. There is a six-week build period and then lots of practice and preparation”.

If national statistics are correct, participating in FIRST will provide CCHS’s student participants with invaluable opportunities and the confidence to pursue a scientific career. A recent Brandeis University retrospective survey compared FIRST Robotics Competition participants to a group of non-FIRST students with similar backgrounds and academic experiences, including math and science. The study found that FIRST students are three times as likely to major specifically in engineering and roughly ten times as likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship, or co-op job in their freshman year of college. The study also found that FIRST students are significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post graduate degree, especially in science and technology, as well as twice as likely to volunteer in their communities.

To reserve and purchase your locally made picnic table to support CCHS’s FIRST robotics team contact Mr. Edward Novak at NovakE@clarke.k12.va.us.