Hunter Davies; Sophie Leggett and Tyler Hanf talk over strategy forthe Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team; which is designing a robot for compeitions next month. (Roger Amsden/Laconia Daily Sun)

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — Members of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team are putting in a lot of hours these days building a robot that will compete for glory over the coming months in competitions that culminate with championships on April 18-21 in Houston, Texas, and on April 25-28 in Detroit, Michigan.

The 20 students involved spend four to five hours a day and as many as eight to 10 hours on Saturdays working on the project, which is as much time as they spend in all of their other courses combined.

The competition sees teams involved in a six-week project in which they build a robot from a kit that is provided for them. The competition requires them to use their math, science, technology and engineering skills to design and program the robot to perform certain tasks.

Tyler Hanf, a senior, whose favorite subjects are math and science, sees his future as a computer science major in college. He said that his experience in working with the robotics team “completely changes how you view what you learn in the classroom. You go from the abstract to seeing how what you learn can be applied to creating something you can see in the real world.”

Hunter Davies, a junior from Belmont, has been involved in robotics programs there since the eighth grade, and is taking part in the Gilford program because it’s the only one in the area that provides the opportunity to compete at a high level.

“It’s like a  small family, where we all rely on each other and work together,” said Davies.

This year the team has changed the way it approaches the program. Instead of having a team captain or project leader, they’re using a non-hierarchical style that encourages input from all team members.

“It’s better than a sports team where you’re only together for practices and games. By the time the 45 days are over, we’re going to have spent 360 hours working together,” said Sophie Leggett, a  junior.

The enthusiasm the students have for the project they’re working on is exactly what Dean Kamen, founder of the FIRST program, had in mind.

“I want to compete for the hearts and minds of kids with the excitement of the Super Bowl,” Kamen said  in 1992 when 28 FIRST Robotics Competition teams met in a high school gym for the inaugural FIRST event.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by Kamen in 1989 to inspire young people's interest in those fields. Based in Manchester, the not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

Participation is proven to encourage students to pursue education and careers in STEM-related fields, inspire them to become leaders and innovators, and enhance their 21st century work-life skills, according to Jackie Drever, one of the mentors of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team.

"It takes a lot of effort and a lot of dedication on their part," said Drever, who pointed out that the benefits of the intense involvement are shown by the fact that, in the last 10 years of the FIRST program in Gilford, students who took part in the program have received more than $500,000 in college scholarships.

Shu-Shu Sawyer and Katrina Boucher are looking forward to using the math skills they are developing as part of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team in their future careers. (Roger Amsden/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

The Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team is using a computer-aided design program to play this year’s game, called Power Up, in which teams are “trapped in an arcade game and have to defeat the boss to escape.” Shown are Haylee Perry, Brad Parker, student at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord who is helping the team, Noah Presby and Neal Miller. (Roger Amsden/Laconia Daily Sun)

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