The Nuts and Bolts of SLA’s Robotics Club

By Sam Lovett-Perkins

Staff Writer

In SLA’s unique extracurricular environment, all it takes to start a club is permission, members, and a teacher to supervise. The most recent example of this is the Robotics Club.

The club’s focus is simple — it builds robots — but that process is complex. The group plans to participate in the ‘FIRST Robotics Championship’ with a series of competitions starting in early March with nationals in April. The organization will send out a challenge to high school students nationwide in January.

Getting to that competition will require hours of work and collaboration from a variety of students with different skills.

To compete successfully, “some students are going to have to learn electrical engineering, other students are going to have to learn about chemical engineering,” said Mr. Vankouwenberg.

“We don’t know what the challenge is yet,” commented Sophomore Marshall Woodruff, a computer programmer for the project. “Last year it was throwing a basketball through a hoop.”

“If we make it to nationals we’ll need $45,000,” said Mr. Vankouwenberg. The school was originally approached by Boeing, who have already donated $10,000 towards the club.

With a $35,000 dollar gap the club’s fundraising section will have to work hard to find sponsors. The club plans to look for support in other places such as The Franklin Institute and neighboring universities Penn and Drexel for student mentors.

Mr. Vankouwenberg anticipates the school approaching Lockheed Martin, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) and PECO who have specific grants for robotics.

Although the club is looking for help to lift it off the ground, the club decided not to work with The Boy Scouts of America, who were originally associated with Boeing.

Mr. Vankouwenberg explained that this was an ethical decision on the part of SLA, citing the Boy Scouts banning of gay troop leaders.  “We are not going to work with people who discriminate [against the LGBTQ population].” There was actually a slight delay in the club starting, because of misinformation about whether the Boy Scouts were affiliated with the program or not.

The student body has shown strong enthusiasm for robotics. Senior Michelle Torelli reported, “I’m interested because I am a hands-on and collaborative person.” Torelli’s official role is the leader of the electronics sub-group, and plans to “bring my energetic and determined personality to help my teammates get the job done effectively.”

High expectations fuel the club member’s motivation. “Our lack of experience as a group is because this is our first robotics team, but I believe with the help of our mentors and determination we will succeed,” Torelli said.

Members understand the difficulties that a club has in its first year, but are hopeful.

Woodruff says, “My expectation is I’d like to have us win, but it probably won’t happen this year, but I can try.”  He hopes the group will  “work together and make the best robot, making sure it runs properly.”

Engineering Teacher Matthew Vankouwenberg welcomes all students to be part of the building process in meetings on Mondays and Thursdays.


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