DHS beats 60 teams from 6 states, secures bid in robotics national championship

DHS, HHS students built robots to stack plastic tote containers


March 26, 2015 at 3:34 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

The DHS Robotic Team won the new FRC Bayou Regional Robotic Championship on Sunday. Dow Chemical contributes $5,000 a piece to the Destrehan and Hahnville high school robotics teams. The funds ensure the schools can afford these programs. In addition to the grant, Dow also contributed materials and mentors to the robotics teams.
The DHS Robotic Team won the new FRC Bayou Regional Robotic Championship on Sunday. Dow Chemical contributes $5,000 a piece to the Destrehan and Hahnville high school robotics teams. The funds ensure the schools can afford these programs. In addition to the grant, Dow also contributed materials and mentors to the robotics teams.
Destrehan High School’s robotics team won the Bayou Regional for the first time in school history and will now head to the national championship.

In the largest field to date at the Bayou Regional, the Wildcats defeated more than 60 teams from six states and Mexico. They outscored teams with past regional champions and a NASA-sponsored team that won the world championship two years ago.

With this win, they will go to St. Louis and compete in the national competition.

“You cut us, we bleed Wildcat robotics,” said Brian Young, Destrehan High School’s robotics adviser. “I get very emotional about this. We bleed this down to the core. To see the excitement on my students’ faces and their action was more than enough to make me emotional.

“This prepares them for the real world in more ways than one. Whether the team wins or loses, it comes out a winner because of the lifelong skills they learned from competing in FIRST competitions.”

Young truly believes in his students, adding, “I’d pit my team against any team in the whole arena.”

An electronics teacher at Destrehan High School for the past 17 years, he has been mentor to the robotics team for seven years.

“Other students have athletics,” Young said. “And still others have social clubs and academic clubs. My students have this technology club and they devote their hearts to it.”

Senior Alex Soniat has been with the robotics club all four years as a Wildcat and plans to attend South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve after graduation.  “I’m one of the lead fabricators on this project,” Soniat said. “Along with Ryan Fink, we designed and built a lot of the parts and brackets that make the robot operate.”

The Wildcats had a bit of trouble in their first of three rounds after a USB cable came loose and the arms would not function. But Young said he wasn’t worried, after all this was the first time in Destrehan’s robotics club history they qualified for this event.

And still he had faith in his team.

“These guys knew what the problem was even before I did,” Young said. “The problem was in the co-pilot box. It wasn’t a big deal, but it made us look bad in front of the judges. But you know that’s part of the process with engineering and design - not everything goes right or fits right the first time out and you have to brainstorm to eventually get it right.”

These machines were designed to lift totes and stack them about 10 feet away. The judges assign points to how well the robot functions on an assigned task.

Hahnville High students were also working on 6-foot tall aluminum structures with arms that were rolling back and forth, lifting and stacking plastic tote containers as competitors of the Bayou Regional.

Though Hahnville didn’t win, the team accepted an invitation to compete in the national competition and will join Destrehan at the event.

These students are the engineers, electricians and chemists of tomorrow. Clubs like these promote education andcareers in science and math fields important the our nation’s future.  So important are these careers they’ve garnered recognition from National Science Foundation and the Obama Administration.

Last year, the White House announced, in partnership with more than 200 companies, including Dow Chemical, that the administration raised  $28 million to hire and prepare for 100,000 new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education teachers over the next decade. The initiative is part of a 5-year campaign named “Educate to Innovate,” meant to raise awareness and inspire students to pursue STEM fields. It also is aimed at providing an increasing high-quality STEM program to a million students by next year.

Just ask Jordan Tremblay, public affairs manager for Dow Chemical, one of St. Charles Parish’s largest corporate sponsors of STEM education.

ur company’s STEM mission statement is, “These students today are our workforce tomorrow,” Tremblay said. “Dow is looking to inspire our local children to pursue careers in STEM. Investing in our youth is investing in our company’s future. We feel partnering with these local teams is a great way to do that.”

It’s all part of a nationwide program Dow Chemical has initiated this year donating $1 million to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to promote STEM education.

Dow Chemical contributes $5,000 a piece to the Destrehan and Hahnville high school robotics teams. These funds ensure the schools can afford these programs.

Elaine Fitzgerald, Hahnville High robotics sponsor and adviser, said they are grateful for companies like Dow Chemical and Entergy who make these programs possible. “Robotics technology is very expensive,” she said. “The money they provide pays our entrance fees to competitions like these, buys materials to actually build the robot and, basically, all the things it takes to make this happen.”Fitzgerald said there are even students involved who market the robot team with a website and perform a lot of public relations responsibilities.

But money is not the only thing Dow Chemical and other sponsors provide for these programs.

“They also provide us with mentors,” she said. “Donny Eastepp and Steve Williams work at Dow as engineers. In fact, we wanted to build a conveyer belt for the robot, so Donny recruited Steve at Dow, who understands and creates conveyer belts, got the money from the company to buy all the parts and materials for it, over and above the $5,000 grant they gave us, and came to the school to show us how to build it.”

Another mentor for Hahnville High is Ricky Fitzgerald, Elaine’s husband, who works with Royal Productions, a company that provides media equipment for conventions nationwide.  He said he gets great satisfaction out of mentoring these students and has a whole new group of friends as a bonus.

“I got a great sense of pride and wonder that such a diverse group of teens could find common ground by working together to compete for their school,” Fitzgerald said. “I plan to keep volunteering to help the school and its students in the future.”




View other articles written Thomas M. Baker

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DHS defense faces stiff challenge as Barbe visits
DHS defense faces stiff challenge as Barbe visits
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For the second time in three seasons, Barbe will visit Destrehan Friday night in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs, with a spot in the state quarterfinals on the line.

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