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Franklin Highs former robotics club celebrates survival, competition

by: David F. Ashton Rebecca LohKamp presents team awards to, Roman Nachtijal, Thomas Hubel, Kobel Weaverli, Chase  Foreman, Cathy Hesslop, and Hadrian Carlsen.

Although cast out of their longtime home - Franklin High School - for reasons still unclear, mentors and students of FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1432, 'Mahr's Metal Beavers', didn't quit or give up.

Instead, they say they've had a very successful year.

So enthusiastic about their club's season were they, the group hosted a banquet for team members and supporters on June 27 at their new home, the Ivanhoe Lodge, Knights of Pythias, in Lents.

After those present had dined on the three-course supper, mentor Rebecca LohKamp and team members presented a program that outlined their year's challenges, successes, and future.

'Our biggest accomplishment is that we survived,' LohKamp began.

'Nobody was giving us good odds that we would make it, and we did,' she added. 'Franklin High School was hoping we would not make it, because if we folded, they would get to keep our grant money. Unfortunately for them, we survived.' The Southeast Portland Rotary Club's Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, volunteered to become the team's fiscal sponsor, and helped the team retain their grants and apply for new ones.

'We not only survived, we built two robots. After our 'competition robot' was shipped, we took out our second robot on public-relations outings to schools, and also a visit to the Oregon State Legislature. We are the only FRC Robotics team that has been presented before the Oregon House of Representatives.

'We competed. Not only did we compete, we also scored.

'We have a new place to meet, and we have fixed it up. There is still work to be done, but the kids have worked really hard.

'We helped start a First Robotics Team in the City of Gresham. We took them to the kickoff event, brought them back to our clubhouse, and helped them brainstorm to help them get started during their 'build season'. We didn't score well in the competition, but the Gresham team went on to the World Championship. They said it was in no small part due to us.

'We hosted a team from Mexico. It was a lot of fun and a great experience for the kids. We have developed international friendships with that team that continue; they say they are anxious to come back next year and want to be here with us.'

LohKamp concluded, 'And, we visited the Oregon State Legislature for a second time, with the hope of persuading the legislature to pass legislation that would allow mentors to be considered to be the same as athletic coaches. Other states do this, there's no reason why the state of Oregon can't! After all, the FIRST motto is, 'Athletics for the Mind'.'

The team members also shared their goals for the 2011-2012 season. Interestingly, 'winning' wasn't high on their list.

Instead, their first goal was to improve their robot design process. 'Because we got kicked out of Franklin High just before the 'build season',' explained LohKamp, 'We were busy moving, organizing, and trying to find tools. They look to have a more structured, focused [robot] design process [next season].'

Their second goal is to learn how to nimbly operate computer-assisted drafting software programs.

The third is to raise money. 'It's expensive to do this program,' LohKamp observed. 'The base cost is $10,000. The nonprofit Southeast Rotary Club Foundation volunteered to be the fiscal agent for the team when Franklin High ended its association with the team, and all the previous financial grants to the team that Franklin High had tried to return were retained.

LohKamp continued, 'But, this team has other expenses; every single kid on our team last year was from a family at or below the poverty level. We feed them at every single meeting - for some of the kids on this team, it's the only meal they can count on. During the summer, the program continues to meet three days a week - and we have continued providing meals for the students at these meetings, too.'

Doing better in advertising and promotion was next on their list. 'Our team members know that this is a program that helps change people's lives; they want people, especially kids, to know about it,' explained LohKamp.

Way down their list of goals is 'Do better in the competition'. While they'd dearly love to travel to the world competition, LohKamp pointed out, 'What makes me the proudest is that they see that 'learning' is more important than 'winning'.'

Since the banquet, the team accomplished another goal: Building a graphics-dedicated computer powerful enough to run Autodesk's AutoCAD computer-aided drafting programs.

After student and sponsor awards were presented, mentor and Boeing engineer Ejvin Berry challenged the team to, over the summer, build a 'Show Bot' to help them further promote the FIRST Robotics program at fairs, parades, schools, and other public events. In their lair, Mahr's Metal Beavers is currently designing that robot.

If you know a high school age student in Southeast Portland who would like to learn more about this program - or would like to help sponsor the team's activities - learn more about the club by visiting their website: www.team1432.org . They meet at Ivanhoe Lodge - Knights of Pythias, 5400 S.E. 84th Avenue at Insley Street.