Did you ever want to build a robot while you were in school?
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a non-profit public charity that operates the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). The FRC is an international high school robotics competition where each year, teams of high school students and mentors work during a six-week period to build game-playing robots that weigh up to 120 pounds (54 kg).
In March of 2012, P.K. Yonge’s FIRST Robotics Team 4118 (The Roaring Riptides) competed for the first time in the South Florida FIRST Robotics Regional Competition. P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School (PKY) is a public school affiliated with the University of Florida, in Gainesville, serving students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
UFTI affiliate Dr. Carl Crane, a Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Intelligent Machines and Robotics (CIMAR), has been a mentor for the team since its inception.
“They pick it up pretty quick,” Crane said in an article for Our Town. “I’m amazed at the confidence from when they start to the end.”
In 2015, the Roaring Riptides were one of the three winning teams at the Orlando Regional Competition, which qualified them for the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis. There they finished 11th out of 76 teams in their division. Due to construction, the Roaring Riptides were unable to use the machine shops at the University of Florida to build their robot as they had in the past. However, the team was able to put together one on P. K. Yonge High School’s campus thanks to a generous grant from Best Buy. The creation of this space led to a 24% increase in attendance and participation compared to the previous year. The team also experienced an increase of 50% in team size, bringing their total number to twenty-six students.
One of the team’s goals was also to increase demographic diversity by reaching out to the community to encourage more minorities to participate in STEM education. Last year, the robotics team president met with the local School Board Superintendent to brainstorm ways in which the team can introduce more students in the community to STEM and robotics.
The team’s demographic makeup is 15.4% African American/Black, 26.9% Asian/Pacific Islander, 38.4% Caucasian/White, and 23.1% Latino/Latina/Hispanic. Due to the fact that some of the students are multiethnic, the percentages do not add up to exactly 100%.
At the start of the previous season, the team was 30% female. At the same time, the team’s only female mentor left to pursue a job in another state. Fearing that a lack of female mentors may be discouraging for the current girls on the team, as well as new ones who might be interested in joining the team, Roaring Riptide actively recruited new mentors. At the end of this last season, 6 of the team’s 13 mentors were female and the team had 42% female students. This coming year, the team looks to increase this number to 50%.