Robots are really cool.
When you think of a robot competition, you probably picture Battle Bots, with machines bent on destruction. But in reality, robotics competitions are about showcasing the work of the creators. Can these machines work independently? Can they follow commands in real time? It doesn’t sound exciting, but every person in the room is on the edge of their seat. Cool.
The cool factor is the first thing any member of the Rowland Hall Robotics Club wants you to know. Building a robot for competition allows these students to start with an idea and watch it come to life. They take it from the design phase to building and testing, then through competing and troubleshooting. They use mechanics, mathematics, engineering, computer-aided modeling, 3D printing, intelligent and inspired design, prototyping, and other tools to reach their goals. And through it all, they are the ones calling the shots. All while playing with robots.
This is student-led and student-run. It’s a collaborative effort of a community of students to set and reach their goals.—Ben Smith ’89, computer science department chair and teacher
“This is student-led and student-run,” said Ben Smith ’89, computer science department chair and teacher, and robotics coach. “It’s a collaborative effort of a community of students to set and reach their goals.”
Rowland Hall has had some sort of robotics program since 2012 (Alex Beaufort ’13, a current coach, was one of the first members), but the club officially started in 2019. There were only three students in the club that year, but they still competed at the state tournament and took home prizes. Things have only gotten better since then. Now, roughly 18 students make up the club, and they have built two robots that they take to competitions around the state.
The students aren’t just responsible for the robots, though. As Ben said, this club is student-directed and student-run by design. That means the students also have to do the marketing, the fundraising, the publicity, the event planning, and handle the logistics when they travel. Those responsibilities, coupled with the knowledge required to build the robots, mean one skill is central to making it all happen: communication.
“Communication is critical,” said Alex. “They have to learn how to communicate effectively and how to include everyone in those communications to make it a team. Otherwise, things don’t work out.”
“It teaches you assertive communication,” said tenth grader Anna Lui. “You need to be able to put your thoughts out there without being afraid of being rejected. It forces you to take initiative of your own part. Even if you don’t know how to do it, you need to try. You might surprise yourself with your ability.”
Expanding abilities is a central theme for every robotics team member. All of them are doing something outside of their comfort zone. Luckily, they have the support of their teammates. “We all try to help each other, and it’s amazing,” said tenth grader Evan Weinstein. “You have to support each other even when competing because the team you are competing against in one round could be your partner in the next.”
The fact that every student brings a different skill set to the team means they must support each other to succeed. There are no rock stars or prima donnas here. Every team member knows this is a unique opportunity they won’t find elsewhere. “Experience is gained in doing it,” said tenth grader Spencer Brady. “The only way to learn how to build robots is to build them.”
And though that robot building is what hooks the students on robotics, it’s clear that the subject is about so much more: building and refining skills like problem solving and computational thinking that will last the students a lifetime and prepare them to take on other challenges in college and their careers. While most of these students want to go into a computing or engineering field, even those who don’t know what they want to do or want to take a completely different path see long-term value in their robotics experiences.
The robotics team is giving us skills we can use almost anywhere.—Omar Alsolaiman, class of 2024
“It is so fulfilling seeing something from start to finish, and learning to work on a team is amazing,” said eleventh grader Jack Campsen. Classmate Omar Alsolaiman, also in eleventh grade, added, “The robotics team is giving us skills we can use almost anywhere. We run the team essentially like a business or real engineering firm, so a lot of the skills will transfer to future jobs.”
The skills even learned go beyond those used in educational, professional, and business arenas. Team members are building skills to help them become independent and well-rounded human beings, building blocks essential for becoming tomorrow’s leaders. “It’s not just the mechanical or engineering skills I’ve learned. It’s also about learning my own limits as a person,” added Evan.
And as the club grows, so does its impact on the school. It’s something Ben loves to see. “Robotics has a place at Rowland Hall because it asks students to do some of the hardest things they have to do,” he said. “I hope it’s as attractive and desired as other programs that we have, like dance or creative writing, and becomes enmeshed in our school culture in a similar manner.”
After all, robots are cool. As Coach Rob Lingstul said, “These kids are creating and producing some crazy awesome things.”
Keep up with the fun! Next month, Rowland Hall robotics students will visit Southern Utah University to attend the state robotics championship. Follow the two robots built by the club (Monochromats and Iron Lions) on social media.