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.

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