High school students from all over Utah came to Weber State University to compete in this year’s FIRST Tech Challenge, FTC Block Party, on Feb. 22.
The FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics program found around the world in which high school students design, build and program robots. These students then compete as a team in a robot competition to complete specific challenges.
Students create, program and run the robots on their own, with little help from coaches and parents.
Cameron Campbell, a freshman at Ogden Preparatory Academy, said it was more than a just big challenge, but a learning opportunity.
“It is a perfect opportunity to learn how to program and do these things that seem to be only things that happen on TV. Everyone can do it, but it takes dedication.”
This year’s game involved challenges that, when completed, earned teams points based on the difficulty level. Challenges included raising a flag of alliance up a flagpole and raising a robot off the ground using a pull-up bar, and the match ended with students balancing a pendulum.
FIRST’s goal is to create an environment where teens can come to learn and develop real-life skills. FIRST encourages standards and values for the participants to live by and also implement during the competition.
“It’s a sport-like model, but everything has to stay really positive to encourage kids that if things don’t go right the first time, it’s OK; that’s a life lesson,” said Deborah Roach, the event’s planning committee volunteer coordinator. “We try to keep them knowing that something positive can come out of everything. It encourages the kids to never give up.”
The competition also had a large volunteer presence that helped to make the event possible. More than 50 volunteers came to the event and helped with positions ranging from check-in staff to judges to master of ceremonies. Many of the volunteers were parents and WSU students, but the biggest group came from Hill Air Force Base, a sponsor of the event.
“Other than the experience of getting up and talking in front of people, which I love to do, my primary benefit of volunteering is knowing that I am able to give back,” said Shaun Bunch, the master of ceremonies and a WSU student.
Mike Simpson, an applied physics student who also volunteered at the event, said he thinks volunteering at events like these is an important experience for students.
“I have been here since 2005, going to school and volunteering, just having a good time,” he said. “I would suggest to others to do the same. Why go to school if you are never going to have fun just sitting around and reading books all day while you study? Go out and apply yourself.”
David Ferro, dean of the College of Applied Science & Technology, said the FIRST Tech Challenge, as an annual event, is always looking for more volunteers.
“We are still growing slowly to keep it manageable,” he said. “We’re always on the lookout for help in building the playing fields, running the computer systems, helping teams and running the competitions. We’re looking forward to next year!”