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STEM students rock the…

Earlier this year, a group of 11 students from Harlandale ISD and Palo Alto College’s S.T.E.M. Early College High School (ECHS) formed a successful competitive a robotics team.

STEM students rock the robotics world

Earlier this year, a group of 11 students from Harlandale ISD and Palo Alto College’s S.T.E.M. Early College High School (ECHS) formed a robotics team to compete against other high schools. Despite their lack of experience, the team won first place in the 2016 Alamo Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and at the Texas Robot Roundup. They also competed at the global Championship in St. Louis.

“The biggest obstacle was just how inexperienced we were as a team,” said team member Noah Pelham. “[We] had no idea what to expect. It was just getting over that initial fear of ‘What are we supposed to do?’ in order to compete.”

Starting in January, teams have six weeks and $4,000 to design, build, and program their robot—getting it completely ready for competition. At the end of the six weeks, the robots are shipped off for competition. On game day, the teams’ robots have to complete various tasks, such as crossing obstacles, moving items, scoring goals, and climbing towers.

“There’s a lot less time to work on homework, but it’s worth it,” said Pelham, who added that being on the team has helped him learn time management, communication, and leadership skills, along with practical experience with electrical engineering.

The S.T.E.M. ECHS robotics team has the unique advantage of in-depth study in subjects related to robotics. By attending the College’s S.T.E.M. ECHS, all of these students are in the process of earning their associate degrees with an emphasis in mathematics, engineering, biology, chemistry, or computer science.

Pelham is working toward his associate of science with an emphasis in engineering, so he is the electrical engineer on the team. Other team members specialize in programming or building the structure of the robot. What makes this team truly special is that not everyone on the team has an intricate understanding of robotics—some team members’ main roles include taking photos, scouting other teams on competition day, or building team spirit.

“Just because you’re in a certain role doesn’t mean you can’t help others. We all help with building, but each person has their own niche role that they’re the best at,” said Pelham.

The team is already preparing for next spring’s competition by recruiting new team members, working on program and structural ideas. This year, the team would like to build a practice robot that they can use to prepare for the games once their competition robot is shipped. The team would build the two robots simultaneously, using the same parts and programming. However, even with additional practice, Pelham said that the team will still need to rely on the knowledge and instincts that helped them succeed last season.

“Even if they’re using the same parts, same code, same everything, each robot has its own different feel to it. Each robot works a little bit differently,” said Pelham.