As the year draws to a close, it is time to say goodbye; it is time to acknowledge the past, but also to welcome the opportunities to come in the following year. For the Army Ants, or the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics team, they say goodbye to the Columbia Area Career Center (CACC), their home since the start of the team’s existence. On Jan. 1, the club will be moving to the University of Missouri – Columbia (UMC) Agricultural Engineering building, and has begun the moving process. They held their first official meeting at UMC on Dec. 15.
CACC director Randall Gooch said this separation is a culmination of the struggle the team and the CACC went through together. When the club first started, it was a pilot program, meaning student interest in robotics was evaluated first and funding was through grant money. As the grant was used and the interest never waned, a formal way to fund the team never appeared. Gooch cites the delayed birth as the reason why.
“The way we get a lot of our funding from the federal and state government, we have to have mandatory student organizations, like DECA [Distributive Education Clubs of America] or SkillsUSA,” Gooch said. “FIRST robotics is outside of that — it’s different; it’s not required.”
Moving away from the CACC means the robotics team has less money at its disposal, leading them to start fundraising efforts much earlier than usual. In order for their building season to go well, the team must raise sufficient funds so their robot can be built in time for the spring competition, junior and team member Linnaea Roberson said. However, she does not anticipate any major problems.
“The team has always had to find their own way to make the majority of their money through selling advertising space on the robot and t-shirts as well as selling light bulbs, coupon cards, restaurant nights and simple donations,” Roberson said. “This year will not be very different in terms of money; simply more effort and time will need to be put into the marketing segment of the team.”
The team does not have to start from scratch, at least. A piece of the agreement between the Army Ants and the CACC ensures that the team still receives some parts from their old home, Gooch said.
“Some of the equipment and robots they’ve used so far, we can’t give that to them as a district because of funding regulations,” Gooch said. “However, we’re going to allow them to use [the equipment] until they’re done with it. If their organization ever stops existing, then that property will come back to the school.”[quote cite=”Kevin Gillis, robotics team sponsor”]The new location provides better facilities and infrastructure support, and operating outside of CPS gives the team greater flexibility.[/quote]
Robotics team sponsor and UMC professor Kevin Gillis said that while the team still receives some equipment, becoming an independent organization offers a wide range of opportunities that weren’t available at their previous home.
“While I am disappointed that the Career Center no longer wishes to support this high-impact and self-supporting after-school STEM program, the team is fortunate to have generous support from their new home at the University of Missouri and the 4-H organization,” Gillis said. “The new location provides better facilities and infrastructure support, and operating outside of CPS gives the team greater flexibility.”
Roberson agrees, believing that the University of Missouri’s facilities and tools may help the building process of the robot.
“Mizzou’s tools are in much better condition than many of our previous tools, making them more safe and effective,” Roberson said. “They also have multiple of the same machine, allowing multiple people to be cutting, drilling, etc. at the same time. The faculty is very helpful because they are helping us learn how to use some of the new machinery, as well as helping us how to build the robot once build season starts [to help us] excel.”
Battle High School senior Hayden Elder, often in the minority due to the abundance of members from RBHS, finds the change to UMC to be a chance for the team to diversify.
“Personally, I believe the move couldn’t have been better for the team,” Elder said. “The team has been predominantly RBHS kids its entire life, which is a bit exclusive, and a thing that honestly makes me mad. Now that we will be at a central place, kids from all around Columbia will be able to join in.”
The fact that the Army Ants FIRST robotics team is moving into UMC does not mean there is no longer anything related to robotics engineering at the CACC, Gooch said.
“We do have robotics. We have a robotics class, and parts of our pre-engineering curriculum is based around robotics education,” Gooch said. “It’s not as though robotics education is totally going away from CPS. The part that we’re still going to manage at the CACC is still closely tied to curriculum.”
Despite this, Elder believes the robotics team offers a unique opportunity for the district.
“I find it sad that CPS never found the value in FIRST,” Elder said. “It is a program that opens opportunities to kids that might not have them anywhere else. It is an inspiring program that continues to amaze me every single year. FIRST creates leaders, problem solvers, and, most importantly, engineers.”
Do you support FIRST’s split from CPS? Leave a comment below!