Grinding the Gears: Inside and Outside of Robotics

Students line up around the stacks of wood. “Let’s get going guys,” the team co-captain says.

Each person picks up a different tool and begins assembling an exact replication of the blueprints the students created before the six-week building period. Quickly, the robotics arm is nestled into position.

SERT is the robotics team at South Eugene High School and is compromised of approximately 20 students with just as many different personalities. Each student contributes skills in distinct backgrounds to attribute to the success of the program.

“Outside of robotics, I enjoy reading, writing poetry, and riding horses,” says Perrin Dunn, 16. “It’s a really good experience because I’ve never been in any clubs before.”

"Having students interested in different things works out well for us," Kelly says. Each student brings a different background and contributes a diverse skill set to the team. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

“Having students interested in different things works out well for us,” Kelly says. Each student brings a different background and contributes a diverse skill set to the team. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

By delving into the meticulous realm of circuitry, SERT provides its students a way to get hands-on experience with teamwork, mathematics, and engineering in an academic setting before entering the real world.

Marcus Hall, the Head Programmer for SERT, uses the education he received through SERT to venture outside the realm of academia and share his passion for science and electrical work to elementary students at the Science Factory, a local children’s museum and planetarium in Eugene, Oregon.

Marcus Hall, SERT captain and head programmer, measures a piece of wood that that will eventually become a target for their demonstrations. Outside of SERT, Hall teaches robotics to elementary and middle school students in the Eugene area. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

Marcus Hall, SERT captain and head programmer, measures a piece of wood that that will eventually become a target for their demonstrations. Outside of SERT, Hall teaches robotics to elementary and middle school students in the Eugene area. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

In addition to teaching at the Science Factory, Hall teaches robotics to elementary school students at the Science Factory as well as with the Talented and Gifted program at the University of Oregon, a community outreach program dedicated to advanced education among K-12 students through U of O’s College of Education.

Through his work at the Science Factory, Hall is gaining invaluable leadership and teaching experience that he can incorporate into his team captain position with the SERT team.

Head coach and mentor Brian Kelly believes that having a strong and organized leader is quintessential to the six-week building season. It helps strengthen the team both from leadership and teaching standpoints.

During the non-building season, students take their skills to other areas of the school and invest them into classes and programs such as the Stagecraft class in which they construct the stages and sets for each play. This helps maintain their building dexterity during the off-season, as well as keeps the students in a team setting.

Sandra Lui uses a different take to practice her skills by leading the SERT public relations team. Outside of the building season, Lui travels with Hall to lobby the state legislature for more funding for FIRST Robotics. She feels that having a team dedicated to seeking funding for the program is an essential part of a successful robotics program now and in the future.

Even though the students excel far beyond the minimum requirements to preserve their team, for the future of SERT to travel down the path of least resistance, the team must over come a large hurdle recently set forth by the City of Eugene.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the City of Eugene has proposed a bond measure that could potentially harm the SERT program. Measure 20-201, a $170 million bond measure that would replace four aging school buildings, would eliminate Roosevelt Middle School, the current workspace for SERT.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Kelly says about the future of the program. Roosevelt Middle School is the only school is the area with enough space, storage and equipment for the SERT team to successfully construct a robot.

“There are no other workspaces around that we could use,” says Kelly.

In a time of economic instability, job security has never been at a more pivotal point, and any experience that students can obtain during high school will benefit their chances of pursuing a professional career in a technical field.

Having fundamental, hands-on skills is crucial to obtaining a job in the technical field. If the SERT program is lost, students will have to look for alternative methods to enhance their skills. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

Having fundamental, hands-on skills is crucial to obtaining a job in the technical field. If the SERT program is lost, students will have to look for alternative methods to enhance their skills. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

“It’s [robotics is] going to be helpful someday,” Lui says. “I’ve always wanted to help people.” The students feel that robotics has strengthened their ability to assist others and recognize the advantages team collaboration will have on their future endeavors.

If lost, SERT members will have no other outlets within this discipline because FIRST Robotics is the only hands-on program left at South Eugene High School. Churchill High School is the only Eugene school outside South that has an active robotics team.

“This is their one big outlet and I think that’s actually a failing of the schools today, that kids don’t get any practical experience,” Kelly says.

As it stands, SERT relies heavily on funding from outside donors, and this can prove to be a challenge in a city where the largest businesses are also non-profit organizations. To raise more funds, the team participates in outside fundraising events each year to pay for the $5,000 entrance fee required before the competitive season starts.

SERT team members gather around the main controller as they prepare to give a demonstration in an effort to attract more students to their program. Recruitment is essential to the success of their program. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

SERT team members gather around the main controller as they prepare to give a demonstration in an effort to attract more students to their program. Recruitment is essential to the success of their program. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

The students also show off their hard work in “performances” at both Roosevelt and Spencer Butte Middle Schools to recruit eight graders into their program for the following year. Demonstrating what they’ve been intensively working on for the last six weeks helps attract a wide range of candidates as additions to the SERT team.

“I like robotics because it’s a bunch of helping, and electronics, and it’s a team,” Yakov Berenshtein says.

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