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BSU sponsors all-girl Robotics Competition team

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Posted at 11:11 AM, Mar 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-28 13:16:10-04

More than 3,000 teams of high school students across the world are preparing to design and build robots to “strategically breach their opponent’s fortifications,” “launch boulders” and “capture the tower.” It’s all part of the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Regional Robotics Competitions being hosted in various cities across the world, including in Boise.

For the first time, Boise State University will host a regional competition; in the past, Treasure Valley students have had to travel to other areas to participate. Several Treasure Valley teams will join teams from around the region at Taco Bell Arena from March 31 to April 2.

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges high-school students -- working alongside professional mentors -- to construct a robot of their own and compete in the “ultimate sport for the mind” that measures the effectiveness of each robot, the power of teamwork and collaboration, and each team’s display of professionalism.

The regional event also marks the first time the College of Engineering has sponsored a team -- the 11-member girl-powered “Chickadees,” featuring girls from high schools across the Treasure Valley. The team had just six weeks to design and build a robot to meet this year’s engineering challenge.

The team has a number of mentors, headed up by Christine Chang Gillespie, project manager for the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives, according to a Boise State University news release. Chang Gillespie participated as a high school student in New Jersey, and credits the program for her lifelong interest in engineering. She went on to mentor other teams as a college student and as an engineer, and based her master’s thesis on the program, the release said.

“It’s a valuable way to encourage girls to pursue engineering and other STEM careers,” she stated. “In high school, I knew engineering was something I might be interested in, but I wanted hands-on experience in engineering -- and there weren’t a lot of opportunities at that time. This was so much fun, and I got to use my hands to actually build something.”

The girls have been meeting since October -- and received their parts kit and details about this year’s challenge on Jan. 9. They had until Feb. 23 to complete their robot, but have continued meeting to work on strategy and coding, design T-shirts and write “thank you” notes to their many sponsors, including the College of Engineering, the Micron Foundation, Century Link and the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust.

Leading up to the competition, they have been meeting three times during the week, plus on Saturdays. As a rookie team, they had to focus on which goals were most important, and which elements of the challenge to let go, according to the news release.

Their robot will be challenged by competing robots -- while attempting to breach defenses, maneuver around various objects, and lob boulders at their opponent’s tower. But they’ll also be judged on their sportsmanship and overall professionalism. For Chang Gillespie, those skills are just as important as the engineering skills.

“The highest award in this competition is really the Chairman’s Award, which is based on outreach to the community, team spirit and helping one another out,” Gillespie said. “It’s all about supporting each other and creating an encouraging atmosphere. You don’t see that in a lot of competitions.”

The public is invited to watch, including on the final day of competition Saturday, April 2.

Schedule highlights include:

March 31
9 a.m. — Field open for measurement and calibrationNoon — Practices matches

April 1
8:30 a.m. — Opening ceremonies featuring former NASA astronaut and Boise State distinguished educator in resident Steve Swanson
9 a.m. and 1 p.m. — Qualification matches
5:45 p.m. — Awards ceremony

April 2
8:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies featuring FIRST’s Don Bosse, Idaho Governor Butch Otter and Micron’s Mark Durcan
9 a.m. — Qualification matches
1:30 p.m. — Finals
4:30 p.m. — Awards ceremony