WiredCats getting geared up for another robotics competition


By Jonathan Martin

The Villanova WiredCats are gearing up for another robotics competition.

The high school robotics team held its annual open house last Saturday, where the public was granted a glimpse into how this year’s robot is coming along.

Each year, the WiredCats participate in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, an international robotics sporting event. Teams of youths have six weeks to raise funds, build a brand, then program and construct a robot to play a predetermined field game against their international peers.

The two-year-old WiredCats placed tenth in the FRC World Robotics Competition in St. Louis last year and earned the Rookie All-Star Award the year before, which landed them a spot in 2016’s worlds, too.

“It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow when we don’t make it (to the world championships),” said WiredCats founder Stacey Greenwood. “But this year, I feel like we’ve found our groove.”

The WiredCats are made up of 37 students broken down into five sub-teams: mechanical, design, electrical, business and programming. Greenwood said over the past three years, the WiredCats have figured out how to synergize the sub-groups and streamline their productivity.

Grade 11 student Erica Rossi has jumped between sub-teams during her three-year tenure. In grade nine and 10, she worked with the robot’s programming. This year, she has jumped over to the electrical sub-team. She said she views the structure of the robotics team as an opportunity to expand her knowledge-base.

“I’m getting closer to Grade 12,” she said. “So I wanted to use this as a chance to learn a bit more about the different fields of engineering.”

Greenwood estimates around 70 per cent of WiredCats continue on to post-secondary STEM fields. With a student membership that’s 35 per cent female, 12 percentage points higher than the national rate of women who graduate from engineering programs, she counts that as an achievement.

“One of my biggest concerns has always been getting women into STEM,” she said. “We tend to lose them around sixth grade, so we do a lot of outreach at the local grade schools.”

Rossi said the WiredCats have given her the confidence to continue on into the male-dominated world of engineering.

The Villanova Wiredcats work on their robot at an open house last Saturday.

“Being a girl in STEM, I am the minority,” she said. “On this team, however, I don’t feel like it. Everybody works together and you don’t see the division.”

Rossi added that the team’s 15 mentors, who, according to Greenwood, are around 65% female, work hard to make sure every student feels involved and invested in the project.

Bob Hedrick is one of the team’s mentors. He helps the students develop the software that allows the robot to complete its tasks.

“In music class, the kids get to hold concerts,” he said. “In gym, they have sports tournaments. In drama, they have plays. In science and math, there’s really not all that many chances to apply what they’ve learned. This program gives them the chance to see the real-world application of the theory they’ve learned in school.”

At the WiredCats’ open house, prospective Villanova students got to check out those applications. Greenwood said she hopes the open house will allow her to continue growing the team, making an impact and allowing girls to explore their STEM side.

The WiredCats will be competing in Windsor March 30-31, in London April 7-8, in Mississauga April 11-14 (assuming they qualify for the provincial championships) and, if they qualify for the world championship, will be in Detroit from April 25-28.

Villanova, St. Bernard team up on robotics project


By Ron Giofu

St. Bernard School got a little help on their Lego robotics project from a team well versed in robotics projects.

The robotics team at St. Bernard received assistance last Thursday from the “WiredCats,” the robotics team from St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School. The “WiredCats” went to the world championships in St. Louis to compete recently and brought their expertise to St. Bernard to allow the younger students to be able to program their own robot.

The St. Thomas of Villanova "WiredCats" robotics team went to St. Bernard School recently to assist with the latter's robotics team.

The St. Thomas of Villanova “WiredCats” robotics team went to St. Bernard School recently to assist with the latter’s robotics team.

Eleonora Vitella, a Grade 5 teacher at St. Bernard, said there are about 13 students ranging from Grade 4-7 on the team. They built the robot with the Villanova students helping them to get it to do what they want. The robot is operational, she said, now it is more of a programming matter.

“I had gone to a workshop and brought the info back to the school and, with student interest, created a team,” said Vitella.

About nine students from the “WiredCats” came to St. Bernard to assist. Vitella said it was nice to have the involvement of the high school students.

St. Bernard School students receive instruction from the St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team.

St. Bernard School students receive instruction from the St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team.

“It’s nice to have extracurricular activities for students to learn at,” said Vitella. “Hopefully it helps them in their future careers.”

The “WiredCats” includes 28 St. Thomas of Villanova students.

Villanova robotics team headed for the world championships in St. Louis


By Ron Giofu

Though the robotics team at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School didn’t make the playoffs at the FIRST Robotics Great Lakes regional competition, they still found a way to advance to robotics world championships.

The Villanova WiredCats – a play off their school’s “Wildcats” nickname – captured the rookie all-star award at the April 6-9 regionals at the University of Windsor and ensured a trip to the world championship in St. Louis in the process. The team features 28 Villanova students, 11 females and 17 males, with team member and Grade 9 student Lily Jacobs calling it the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

The St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team - aka "the Villanova WiredCats" - are heading to St. Louis later this month for the world championships. (Special to the RTT)

The St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team – aka “the Villanova WiredCats” – are heading to St. Louis later this month for the world championships. (Special to the RTT)

“I think I cried the hardest,” added Grade 12 student Kathleen Beach.

Dan Cordeiro, another Grade 12 student, said they were “bummed out” about not making the playoffs at regionals but were elated to win the rookie all-star award.

“Everything worked out,” said Jacobs. “The positivity we had was just outstanding.”

Judges not only evaluated each team’s robot, including Villanova’s “Patches” robot, but interviewed team members, looked at the support each team had, their social media presence and looked at the whole operation.

“We all work together really well,” said Cordeiro.

Beach added there are a variety of different age levels with students from Grade 9-12 involved with the WiredCats. She said there are five “sub-teams” with mechanical, programming, design, electrical and business teams comprising the overall group.

“Patches” is known as a “retriever robot” but is now being worked on further in preparation for worlds with changes being made, some of which includes its ability to lift gates and objects. There is a medieval theme that is also part of the championships, with team members also crafting chainmail out of pop tabs.

Matthew Dunne and Connor Ajersch work with pop tabs as part of Villanova's robotics team's creation of a chainmail vest for their robot.

Matthew Dunne and Connor Ajersch work with pop tabs as part of Villanova’s robotics team’s creation of a chainmail vest for their robot.

The world championships are April 27-30 and while they obviously want to do as well as they can, Beach added they “want to make it crazy and big and be the best team we can be.”

The WiredCats have also developed friendships along the way, including trading buttons and pins from teams from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, southwestern Ontario and even a team from Poland. They have also become mentors to younger students and are using their team to help attract prospective students to Villanova.

“Our team is busy non-stop trying to leave positive messaging,” said Beach, who plans to return to Villanova with Cordeiro as mentor to the team after the graduate.

“We are hoping to inspire others,” added Jacobs.

The WiredCats, also known by their team number of 5885, also had a member possibly make the FIRST Dean’s List. Alex Drazilov, who is the head programmer, was named to the list as a finalist.