This week was UAA’s STEM Day, in which the University of Alaska Anchorage hosts clubs, businesses, and people from STEM fields to have interactive activities for kids. FIRST Robotics had a wing sectioned off, which had FRC’s area, Eagle River High School’s FTC team, and one of our mentors, Dale, with a geology demo.
That morning, had a group of three go to the Engineering Industries Building to pick up bomb bot and tank bot, and the rest set up our station. Originally, our plan was to have a DIY harmonica making station set up, and the two robots to demo. Unfortunately, both robots were having issues, so we went to plan B. A group of us went back to the Engineering Industries Building, got Sendit (our competition robot from the Powerup season), and let the kids drive it. We moved the desks and chairs from a classroom attached to our wing, and then got the robot set up to drive. We still had the harmonicas to make as well, so would have four of us manning the robot, two showing how to build the harmonicas, and any extras on break or telling interested families about FIRST.
Starting out was chaotic, but we got into the grove of things pretty quick. Through the day we changed how we were letting the kids drive Sendit, and got a pretty good system down. We would have groups of two drive, which almost everyone who came were at least groups of two. One would do the driving, as the other intakes/outputs the cube and lifts the slide. The number of kids would fluctuate rapidly, with times where no-one wanted to drive, to others where huge groups were gathered. Safety was a big concern to us, so we slowed down the speed of the robot and set limits where if kids went outside of them, we would disable the robot. There were probably a good 100 kids who ended up driving. Towards the end, our bot was falling apart. The set screw came loose on one of our intake wheels, so the cube was tough to pick up. Also, a slide bearing came loose, so the second stage slide was wobbly. Needless to say, we stopped using the cubes. While unfortunate for today, nothing broke, and this information will certainly help when designing the robot next year. By this point, the event was coming to a close. It had been nearly 5 hours, but certainly didn’t feel that long. We moved the tables back, packed up our station, and took the robots back to UAA. Vicki told us that in the first 45 minutes of the event, over 300 kids checked in, half of last year’s total event.
This event was awesome. We got to meet the dean of engineering and thank him for letting us use the space. I also got to see one of my elementary school teachers with his two kids. The sound of motors revving and harmonicas blasting was music to my ears, each one showing a kid having a blast. We got a sign up sheet full of eager Nerdlets, and many parents given connections to FIRST clubs in their area. This also proved as a good bonding time to improve communication within our team, and get to know some of the new faces joining this year. Finally, this event was a fantastic opportunity to stress our outreach methods and learn from past experiences. Outreach is at the heart of everything we do, and having a sustainable outreach strategy that has been tried and true is one of the most vital aspects of our team. It has been nearly 18 years since our team was founded, and it feels like we have finally gotten to the point where we can employ the same methods of outreach at every events, and see those same amazed faces from kids and adults alike.