Recently, the Cedar Valley hosted the very first Iowa Regional for FIRST® Robotics Challenge (FRC®) on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. This was an effort of many years by many who have seen the value of the FIRST programs. DISTek® has been a sponsor of the Cedar Falls High School Swartdogs (team 525) the early 2000’s and sponsored many other FIRST teams financially and/or through coaching or mentoring. This year, DISTek once again was one of the sponsors of the Swartdogs (both financially and by mentoring), but we also were one of the sponsors of the Iowa Regional. In addition to donating financially, some DISTekians were active volunteers. Jeremy Yoder and Bob Theisen were two of the judges that had the difficult task of determining which teams shined in areas such as Innovation, Creativity, Engineering Inspiration, Entrepreneurship, Excellence in Engineering, Gracious Professionalism®, Quality, Industrial Safety, Industrial Design, Imagery, Innovation in Control, and the most prestigious award, the Chairman’s Award. Mike Weno and I helped direct the flow of students and spectators through the facilities. Dan Tesfa served in a stand-by role; ready to help when needs arose.
“As a first time judge, the judge advisor said I would be inspired and that I would have fun. And he was right on the money! Watching these young folks compete against each other one minute and share spare parts, strategy, and knowledge to that same competitor the next minute was truly worth my investment of time this weekend”, said Bob Theisen, IT Manager at DISTek Integration. “These kids are doing some pretty amazing things in a really short period of time. The future of technology is in good hands if we continue to support and mentor within this great FIRST program,” he continued to explain.
So, you may ask, what is FRC? It is where high school students with guidance from their adult mentors develop a robot that competes in a themed competition. Besides creating, building, programming, and testing their robot, the team must develop a business plan to fund the year and also future years. They are also encouraged to spread the FIRST bug and encourage the startup of more teams. Teams work cooperatively in ways that are not usually encouraged in sporting events. Besides teams helping other teams build and program their robots, they ultimately form alliances on the competition field. Matches consist of three teams against another set of three teams. Once the qualifying rounds are complete, the top eight scoring teams of the qualifying rounds invite other teams to join them in alliances. They strategize and cooperate. From the alliances formed, I noticed that teams found other teams that complemented them. Teams that had strength in scoring found another team that wanted to play defense.
Being this was the first FRC event I attended; I was in awe of all that the successful teams had to do to perform well. There were robot tweaks, strategy sessions, cooperation and competition, and a lot of high fives. The MC in training for the event told me that the FRC is sports for the mind and I found that to be true. I also saw the saying, “the hardest work you will ever love”, which I fully believe. Jeremy Yoder echoed my sentiments by stating, “Over the two days I spent judging the FRC Regional in Cedar Falls I was continuously blown away by the robots that these high school kids were able to build in a very short amount of time. Not only was the innovation, creativity, and robustness top notch, but everyone seemed to be having a blast in the process. Thanks to these bright kids, the time invested by countless mentors, and the FIRST program, the future of engineering is very bright!”
The entire event went very well. The local Cedar Valley teams all were recognized in some manner. The Swartdogs received the Chairman’s Award, Volunteer of the Year, and Regional Winners. The Waterloo team (Unity4Tech, team 5837) received the Highest Rookie Seed, Rookie All Star Award, and Woodie Flowers Finalist Award. Dike-New Hartford (DNH Robotics, team 6164) received the Rookie Inspiration Award.