WHS robotics team gearing up for FIRST competition
by Mark Andrews
Feb 18, 2011 | 3007 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Head Coach Katherine Gerbis observes Levi Lanham correcting a problem on the robot’s carriage. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Students at Woodland High School have been working for the last six weeks on a robot to be used during a FIRST Competition in mid-March.

"We're actually in the fifth week of a six week-long competition," WHS engineering and technology instructor Katherine Gerbis said.

Gerbis said the students have been working every day, minus snow days, since Jan. 10.

"They've put in a lot of long hours and even some Saturdays," Gerbis said.

FIRST is a national robotics organization that stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Its mission statement is "to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities, including self-confidence, communication and leadership."

Gerbis began the school's robotics team, known as "3W" -- Woodland Wildcat Whatchamacallits -- three years ago as a way to help students get involved in an extracurricular activity and to help rebuild the workforce. She is the head coach for the team.

"We're giving students an opportunity to do something after school that isn't sports," Gerbis said. "We've got a workforce that is dwindling in the fields of engineering and technology, but we're teaching students these skills through robotics."

The team is working on a robot named "Schnappi," after a German children's cartoon.

Once built, the robot will be shipped to a holding site where it will be held until the weekend of March 18-20, where Schnappi's abilities will be tested against other robots from the region.

The FIRST competition isn't cheap, costing teams $6,500 for the robotics kit and entry fees.

"Luckily we've been able to get a $6,500 grant from JCPenney to pay for the competition," Gerbis said.

Robert Panettiere is a junior at WHS and competed last fall in the BEST robotics competition. BEST stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology and is a national six-week robotics competition in the U.S. held each fall.

Panettiere said he has always been interested in engineering and that is what led him to 3W.

"I've always liked taking stuff apart, but putting it all back together has been the hard part," Panettiere said, adding the process of building the robot is "awesome."

"The kids really enjoy [robotics], and the parents can't seem to say enough about [robotics]," Gerbis said.

Frank Cipolla owns Common Sense Computers and offers his time to 3W as a mentor.

He said being able to pass on his knowledge after working in the technology field means more opportunities for students.

"It's important for us to compete with the world," Cipolla said. "I feel we have great teachers in our school system, but many aren't able to do real-world, hands-on work."

He said the FIRST Competition incorporates real-world situations in the field of technology.

"For example, the documentation [the students] will be using will be scattered and [the students] will have to figure out how to complete the task," Cipolla said. "The competition is like a real-world wake-up call."