HUNTINGTON – Gateway Regional High School kicks off its first competitive robotics team that meets weekly on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
The team is led by Diana LeBlanc, director of curriculum at Gateway, and Nick Balboni, an engineer at Raytheon Technologies and the father of two of the five team members. It’s not too late for any students in grades 9-12 to join the team, Balboni said.
“I got into the world of robotics because my kids did it for 10 years in Agam,” LeBlanc said. Last year, the Gateway team visited the Agawam robotics competitive team to learn more about the program, and this summer their team came to Gateway Regional summer camp during STEM week for a demonstration and activity.
At the Gateway team meeting on November 2, team members James von Deck from Chester, Jesse Balboni and Caleb Mann from Russell were unpacking the first robots parts and reading instructions on how to build their own robot. Two teammates, Issa Vera Ortiz and Sissy Balboni, were not present at that meeting.
FIRST – To inspire and recognize science and technology – organizes tournaments around the world in which high school robotics teams compete with each other, initially on a regional basis but with an opportunity to qualify for state, national and world championships. Every year FIRST releases a new challenge, a task the bot must do that year, and teams have limited time to design, build and program their bots before competitions begin.
One of the most important aspects of the team, LeBlanc said, is that it is hands-on training for the students.
“We’re just here to give advice,” she said. She said the team’s goal is to compete in February. “As long as we have a working robot, that’s a victory,” she said.
LeBlanc said she is aware of the competitions from her children’s participation.
“The competitions are great. They form alliances with teams in a match, and compete against them in a later match. It’s really cool to watch them go through with it.”
Part of the competition, Balboni said, is to have the judges talk to team members and ask them questions.
“They don’t want volunteers and teachers doing the work for them,” he said.
However, Balboni on his team said that at least four of the five members are interested in pursuing STEM fields.
“If cooking doesn’t work out, I’d like to get involved in architecture or STEM. I like both equally,” Mann said.
Mann, who moved to the area from Arizona, is the only one on the team with some experience with robotics. He said at his old elementary school out west they had a Lego robotics team.
LeBlanc said the robotics team includes construction, mechanical, electronic and programming work, “to tell him what to do.” There is also an opportunity to print parts of the robot on a 3D printer, she said.
It’s exciting to see this come together, Balboni said as an engineer, “A lot of engineering is practical application. Try it, see if it works, find out if it doesn’t.”
He said funding is critical to the team. They received a startup grant from Raytheon Technologies for robotics and to participate in one competition. They need tool sponsors – they currently have one screwdriver in between – extra supplies, accessories, and supplies for 3D printers.
Anyone interested in joining or sponsoring the team can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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