On Saturday, Jan. 26, high school students from around Maryland and Washington, DC, gathered at Capitol College for a FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament. This FIRST Robotics event required students to build a robot to compete in the “Ring It Up!” challenge, in which teams of robots drive on a closed course and hang rings on several different posts.
The day began with student teams tweaking and testing their robots. A practice course was set up for students to test the mechanics of their robots prior to competing. The 13 competing teams then had their robots inspected to determine whether each team’s robot met the weight and size restrictions of the challenge, among other criteria.
“I first heard about FIRST from my friends and my creative side was spurred at the first meeting,” said high school student Jessica Wecht. “I like to figure out the mechanics of robots and it looks really good on your resume to have robotics experience.”
After meeting with judges, the competition opened with a round-robin format. Four teams competed at a time in two alliances and were tasked with driving their robots, picking up colored rings with the robots and placing the rings on posts of various heights to score points. Each team is allowed to have up to 10 students.
“I’m one of the drivers so I control the robot and I help figure out the best strategy for our team,” said Justin Argauer, an eighth grader who will be attending River Hill High School next year. “These competitions give you good experience with leadership because you’re in charge of certain projects on the robot. I also really like learning about technology.”
Six competitions comprise the Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge. Saturday’s event was the fourth of six competitions. A total of 32 teams advance to the Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge Championship to be held on Feb. 23 at the JHU Applied Physics Lab.
FIRST Robotics strives to provide students with hands-on experience in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The organization sponsors numerous challenges and competitions for students in elementary school, middle school and high school.
“FIRST is one of the biggest and best organizations for getting kids into STEM,” said Bill Duncan, FIRST Regional Director for Maryland. “We’ve been at it for more than 20 years and it has proven to be one of the top programs for kids to get hands-on experience with technology.”
Capitol College is dedicated to providing a hands-on education to all of its students. This year, the college is providing more than $600,000 in scholarships to FIRST students, making it one of the top five providers of FIRST scholarships in the country. Capitol College has also hosted the FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff Event for nine consecutive years.