BONUS BLOG: Robotics and the Importance of STEM in Education: A Q&A with Geared Reaction

Last month, we excitedly shared on our social media channels our support and sponsorship of Union High School’s Geared Reaction robotics team in their quest to win big at the 2019 FIRST Championship, the world’s largest celebration of STEM for students who participate in K-12 robotics programs.

Based in Camas, Washington, Geared Reaction was introduced to the Vector Solutions family through our Convergence Training team, and quickly impressed everyone with their creations, competitive spirit, and … tons of awards. It was amazing to see the students using many of the same techniques found in Vector products – programming, 3D modeling, video compositing and more.

While the team had a very strong showing at Worlds, they narrowly missed advancing to the finals and finished in a very impressive 15th place in a division of 80 teams. We loved following them on their journey to Worlds, and can’t wait to continue building our relationship with them and see what they have in store for us next year.

But, more important, our partnership with Geared Reaction has demonstrated the need for STEM in education and the impact that STEM activities, including robotics, has on students.

According to the Pew Research Center, employment in STEM-related occupations has grown 79% over the last 20 years, outpacing overall U.S. job growth. Not only does STEM education in schools lead to increased job opportunities and higher incomes, but it also helps bridge the gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic gaps often found in science and math fields. Additionally, it builds confidence, drives creativity, and strengthens social and leadership skills in students, giving them the tools they need to be successful inside and outside of the classroom.

In between their trip to Worlds and studying for finals, the Geared Reaction team took some time to share with us what they’ve learned and experienced from their robotics work, as well as their career interests and their advice for robotics newcomers.

How did you become interested in robotics?

Jordan, Reporter & Senior Programmer: My family has several engineers of various fields from biomechanics to architecture. In addition to the inspiration provided by them, I began teaching myself basic Java and Javascript through middle school. This evolved into my interest of applying for the programming team.

Sam, Freshman: I enjoy problem solving and mathematics, so robotics was the perfect fit for me.

Amy, Outreach Captain: For me, it was a combination of different interests coming together leading up to something that would hopefully encompass it all. It initially started off with an interest in advancing my programming abilities since I kept starting, but not actually following through with building my skills. I thought that robotics would force me to finally advance. I was also interested in arts, and robotics surprisingly gave me the outlet of combining both STEM and graphic arts together.

Why did you decide to join the robotics team?

Jasmine, Secretary: I heard about robotics in middle school, and it seemed like such a cool place to meet people with the same passion and interests! It also was a personal journey, in that I was shy and not sociable, and robotics provided me with a place to grow. The exposure to leadership and public speaking really helped me to overcome my fears. And, I was swayed by the artistic and creative opportunities offered to me. I don’t regret joining one bit.

Why do you think it’s important for students to learn about robotics or become involved in robotics?

Jordan, Reporter & Senior Programmer: As our world transforms in respect to technology, it is imperative that students develop a rudimentary understanding of these advances. After all, the technology of today will shape the world of tomorrow, and excelling early on in the STEM field increases your opportunities to be at the forefront later on.

Kyler, President & Build Captain: Learning robotics is important and beneficial in so many ways. For one, if you have technological aspirations for a career, from computer science to mechanical engineering, robotics is by far the best program to set you up for any of those fields. More important, in my opinion, robotics teaches you some of the most valuable skills including collaboration and self-initiative. In robotics, it is an absolute must for students to work together as all great innovations, developments, and progress come from teams, not single creators.

Additionally, you learn how to discover and learn, especially how to teach yourself, as there are endless opportunities to grow your individual skills. Last, robotics offers leadership opportunities that I believe are greater than other programs. Our program runs like a business and gives you insight into the corporate environment before you even graduate. All of these elements will help you in college, your career, and life in general.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a member of Geared Reaction?

Nene, Freshman: By being a member of Geared Reaction, I have learned that even if you feel like you have no special qualities or talents, there is always something that only you could do for the team, and that there is indeed something special about you that sets you apart from anyone else.

Why is robotics important to everyday life? How is robotics changing our world?

Jasmine, Secretary: Robotics is important due to the infinite opportunities offered. While it has shaped our world in terms of technological advancements, efficiency, exploration, and so much more, it ties in at the local community level. Kids today are able to explore their passion for invention and experiment in technology. The world has really opened up, and it has provided countless engineering, programming, and bonding opportunities.

The sense of connection I see among our team, of people from all different walks of life, all brought together with the opportunity to explore their passions – it really has made a huge impact.

Kyler, President & Build Captain: Robotics already has changed our world. The technology we take for granted like cell phones and cars are made possible by robotics being able to machine and craft products at insane levels of precision and consistency. Robotic prosthetics are giving new opportunities to people with disabilities, AI is leading to new medical discoveries daily, and so much more.

What makes a good robot?

Kyler, President and Build Captain: A good FTC [First Tech Challenge] robot is made up of many things, but ultimately depends on the challenge each year. In order to be competitive at the higher levels of robotics competitions, the robot must achieve all parts of an acronym I like to refer to as FAR.

The first part is fast: the robot must be able to perform the desired pieces of the challenge, but also perform quickly. At a certain point, every strong FTC robot can complete the game, so speed will be the determinant in the match.

The second part is accurate: each year, there are game elements that require extreme precision where the robot must be very accurate in its movements and able to do again and again.

This leads to the third piece of a good robot, reliability: arguably the most important of the three, it doesn’t matter how good you are or were at one point if the robot isn’t consistent and reliable every match. As such, these three components are generally present in every top scoring robot in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

What are some emerging technologies that you are excited to learn more about?

Sam, Freshman: 3D printing, especially with nylon, metals, and other strong materials.

Parker, Vice President: Innovations in space exploration, such as sustainable colonization, jet propulsion, and rovers.

What advice would you offer to a student – or adult – who is interested in robotics?

Rashad, Junior: I would recommend a student to join their local FIRST team, or if they don’t have one, try to make one. It’s a great way to make friends and build your skills! For adults, you can also be a part of FIRST by mentoring or coaching.

Spencer, Sophomore: Don’t be afraid to speak out about your ideas to the group. When people vocalize their ideas and communicate with the group, new concepts and designs can come out of it. Another important piece of advice is to make sure you plan out how are you going to make your concept come to life.

What career aspirations do you have?

Kyler, President & Build Captain: This is a big one for me. I could easily write a 20-page paper for this as I am always thinking years ahead of where I am. The gist, however, is to graduate with a masters in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as a minor in business. Then, I plan to start out as an engineer for a company where I can learn more about the day-to-day operations of innovative companies.

However, my dream is to follow in my father’s entrepreneurial footsteps and start my own engineering firm to innovate solutions to better the lives of all.