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Frisbees are flying


Lake Monster Robotics team prepares for regional competition

by: REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - From left, Daniel Ragsdale, Ankit Agarwal and Ethan Russell make refinements to the Frisbee throwing mechanism.The clock is ticking for the Lake Monsters Robotics team. They have just until Feb. 19 to put the final tweaks on their entry for the Ultimate Ascent in the regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). The team must build a competition ready robot that can fling Frisbees and climb a pyramid for the International FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) to be held in Portland March 6 through 9.

“Our challenge is to see how many Frisbees we can get into the goals during the two-minute, 15-second time period,” said Stevie Hillier, team captain for the Lake Monster Robotics team. “Then our robot has to climb up a pyramid.”

The team received from FRC a Kit of Parts, which included motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components, but no instructions. They have had six weeks to transform the kit into a working robot that will perform the required actions.

Now in its sixth year, Lake Monster Robotics is made up of students from Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools. The program was originally founded by Lakeridge science teachers Matt Price and Sarah Alt-Price, but is now a volunteer- and student-lead program.

The first three years the group worked in space donated by mentor Gary McKenzie, owner of Rapid4mation in Tigard. Now the team has dedicated work space at Lakeridge High.

The program affords students an opportunity to learn how to use hand and power tools and understand engineering principles by working side-by-side with professional engineers, programmers, welders, machinists and marketers to solve problems and overcome real-life obstacles. Besides learning to build and program robots, the team members learn to under strict rules, with limited resources and time constraints, how to raise funds, design a team “brand,” and hone team working skills. The teams must raise funds, solicited donations and corporate sponsorships, strategize and write a business plan to support their goals; in short the Ultimate Ascent is a challenge in managing a small business operation.

Within its first two years, Lake Monsters Robotics increased interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs at both high schools, resulting in the district offering Principles of Engineering classes at both schools.

The team is coached by head mentor Stacy Lee, an engineering project manager at Veris Industries. Several other adults volunteer as mentors, assisting with electrical, mechanical, programming and marketing aspects of the project.

Hillier said the mentors have helped the students figure out gear ratios, drive trains and other aspects of the challenge, giving them information and then letting the students figure out what will work with their robot.

“The mentors teach and tell us, then we experiment until we find a solution to the problem. It’s very challenging and fun!” said Hillier. She is one of four girls on the team this year and plans to study pre-engineering at University of Washington next fall.

“As a female interested in pursuing an education in engineering, it really helps to build a support system,” said Lee. “While in college I had a math professor tell our class that women should not pursue degrees in engineering. When starting my career, I had to work harder than my male peers to prove myself because I had a senior engineer that would tell me that my successes or failures were primarily due to the fact that I was female. FIRST is truly a community that can help students make lifelong connections that can be this support.”

“It’s going to be tough working in a male dominated career field,” Hillier said. “I’m just going with the attitude that I have to call ‘em on it.”

McKenzie, who has served as a mentor to the team since it was formed, couldn’t be more excited and proud of what the team has accomplished in the short time.

“We’ve graduated the first members of the team,” he said. “And four of them are in engineering school. It’s a real challenge to keep kids focused on math and science. They don’t have the hands on experience we did growing up, building model rockets and airplanes. And they don’t have the shop classes now to get that basic training with hand and power tools. It’s really gratifying to see these kids go on with engineering - it puts a smile on my face and brings you back.

The Lake Monsters Robotics team’s mission is to build technical skills for future careers in science, technology, engineer and mathematics, build people who can create inventive solutions to solve problems and overcome real life obstacles and build community by reaching out to potential members through demonstrations and youth education.

Will the student engineers meet the Feb. 19 deadline?

“We’ll get there,” said Hillier confidently. “It’s always a struggle at the end.”

The public is invited to attend the FRC Regional competition to be held March 7-9 at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Those wishing to donate or volunteer to support Lake Monsters Robotics should visit frc2635.org.

To view a Ultimate Ascent competition go to youtube.com/watch?v+4J8YttGoetA.