EHTP’s Robotics Program Inspires Future Technology Leaders

EHTP logoThe East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) robotics team, “Warriors of EHTP: Team 1880,” is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Founded in 2006, Team 1880 marked EHTP’s first foray into the cutting-edge world of robotics engineering. Recognizing the need to develop more future leaders in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math), EHTP launched its robotics team in order to make innovative technology studies more accessible to students from underserved communities who might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage in these fields.

Today, the robotics team is one of the most challenging and intensive programs that EHTP offers. Beginning in January, Team 1880 will have six weeks to build a fully functioning robot from scratch that must be able to complete a pre-assigned task, such as shooting a basketball into a hoop or balancing on a seesaw. It’s a monumental mission, and team members are involved every step of the way from the ground up. Students construct a chassis and frame; design, build, and test a prototype of the mechanism needed to complete the robot’s task; construct and wire the mechanism once they are satisfied with its successful performance; write the necessary code to operate the machinery; and hone and refine every aspect of the robot until it achieves peak performance levels. Students demonstrate their commitment to the project through the exhaustive hours they put in: every day after school and all day on the weekends.

Accessible and innovative programs

FIRST Robotics Competition
Image courtesy North Charleston | Flickr

Once the robot is completed, it’s time for the team to show the country what it’s capable of, and this happens at the prestigious FIRST Robotics Competition. Founded in 1989 to help young people discover the excitement and rewards of science and technology, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national nonprofit organization that designs accessible and innovative programs to motivate and encourage young students to further their education and pursue career opportunities in the STEM fields, as well as to help them develop self-confidence and life skills. FIRST’s best-known event is its annual robotics competition, in which teams of 20 or more students from all over the country compete to design and build the best possible industrial-sized robot. Through this experience, which is as close to real-world engineering as high school students can get, FIRST Robotics Competition teams engage in collaborative problem-solving and work with professional mentors as they make their way to the FIRST championships via a series of qualifying competitions.

Students achieve success

Team 1880 is one of the few after-school programs to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition (most teams are from full-time high school programs), and EHTP students have achieved a number of successes so far. Founded in 2006, Team 1880 won an award at the regional competition held in New York City and later became the first team from Harlem to attend the FIRST Robotics National Competition in Atlanta.

The robotics team provides a major challenge for participating EHTP students, and it is also tremendously rewarding. Participation on the robotics team allows students to engage with science and technology in a new way, as well as to gain hands-on problem solving skills in ways that are not always possible to achieve in a regular classroom setting. Students not only grow academically through the robotics program, but they also develop into responsible team members who understand the value of collaboration, cooperation, and hard work.

Creating a solid foundation for further study

First Robotics Competition
Image courtesy Nasa HQ Photo | Flickr

In preparation for the robotics program, which is open to students in grades 10 through 12, potential participants must complete a semester of Intro to STEM at EHTP, which provides a broad introduction to the STEM disciplines and helps to build a solid foundation for further study. During the fall program cycle prior to the January launch of the robotics program, robotics students complete an intensive curriculum that includes courses in design and fabrication, media and technology, and computer science.

Another important aspect of the robotics program is its emphasis on mentorship. Featuring a structure designed to maximize learning opportunities for all FIRST partners, Team 1880 integrates both adult-to-youth and peer-to-peer mentoring relationships that contribute greatly to the program’s success. All participants work closely with professional mentors—including engineers, architects, physicists, and experienced builders—as well as veteran high school students who serve as mentors to newcomers to the program.

In addition, Team 1880 members serve as teaching assistants through EHTP’s Lego Robotics program, an introductory robotics program that is geared toward middle school students, allowing them to hone their own practical skills and gain valuable teaching experience.