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College Robotics Team Wins Regional Tournament
Proving that robotics competitions are not just for elementary through high school students, members of the College of Southern Maryland robotics team has won the tournament champion award at their first qualifier competition at the California University in Pennsylvania.
“The VEX robotics competitions are open to all colleges—universities as well as community colleges around the world,” said CSM Technical and Industrial Studies Professor Bernice Brezina, the team’s coach and advisor. “These students no doubt have promising careers ahead of them,” said Brezina of the winning team. “They were able to capitalize on all the mechanical and programming resources that were provided for them and work together to win this competition. In my opinion, their advantage was that they all took the competition very seriously—as if they were engineers working on a real engineering project.”
Teams participating in the Nov. 18 competition included Muhlenberg College of Allentown, Pa., Alfred University of N.Y. and University of Illinois at Urbana. Teams compete following a modified version of the challenge that high school and middle school teams do, but with a twist. This year’s game is "Gateway," and college teams build two robots.
The playing field is also modified with more high goals and a longer autonomous, or programmed, segment of the match, requiring extensive programming. There are qualifier competitions from September to March each year with the culminating event being the World Championship which will be at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in April. CSM will host a college VEX qualifier competition on March 2 at the Physical Education (PE) Center on the La Plata Campus.
CSM’s team, The Talons, named for the college’s Hawk mascot, consists of eight core members and several other students who provide support for the team.
“We formed the team because many of our computer science and engineering majors have experience with high-school robotics and were looking for an outlet to extend their participation in robotics competitions in college,” said Brezina.
Some of the students participated in robotics clubs in high school, but others have had no experience prior to joining the Talons.
Heather Stripling, 18, of Waldorf, a biomedical major who has tinkered with things since she was a toddler, said, “When I was 2 years old, my Mom said that I used to play with toys by unscrewing the compartment that held the batteries and taking the batteries out.” Stripling wants to transfer to the University of Maryland to continue working toward a degree in bio-engineering. When she saw a television program on military veterans receiving prosthetic limbs, she began focusing on a career that would enable her to work on designing and advancing prosthetics.
Jimmy O’Brien, 25, of Waldorf, is a computer science major who is new to robotics. He learned about the team from researching student clubs on the college’s website and joined when the team’s robot was in mid-construction. O’Brien said he was nervous for the first five minutes of the club meeting--until he was put to work testing and refining the robotics mechanical capabilities. “The competition was a great experience,” said O’Brien, who added that he is looking forward to the next tournament.
Ryan Hutchinson, of Mechanicsville, and Stewart Smith, of Waldorf, both 17, are experienced in robotics competitions and were the club’s first members. Both are working toward mechanical engineering degrees through the partnership between CSM, University of Maryland (UMD) and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC). The partnership enables students to take nearly all of the courses required for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Southern Maryland.
“During the competition, Stewart helped several teams [when they had programming malfunctions]. Once word was out that he was a programming genius, he was in demand,” said Brezina.
Other team members include Evan Dahlstrom of Huntingtown, Jonathan Frank of Indian Head, Willie Hamel of Mechanicsville and Mark Mahan of Nanjemoy, who, at 50, is the team’s most senior member.
For information on CSM’s robotics club, contact Brezina at 301-934-7573 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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