Collegiate School’s robotics team climbed to third place in the prestigious international competition and brought home an award for creativity.
The FIRST Robotics World Championship is the most distinguished high school robotics tournament in the world. Out of a field of 3,500 schools, around 400 teams qualified and came together for this year’s world tournament at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. At the end of the three-day competition, Collegiate School’s own TORCH 5804 was part of the alliance that came in third place in the FIRST Robotics World Championship.
Take a moment to comprehend the magnitude of the achievement: Collegiate School’s robotics team built a robot that, at the end of an international competition, finished third among 3,500 competitors.
Over the course of the rollicking run, which started back in January when the team began designing their robot, TORCH 5804 has built, innovated, competed, and, ultimately, won as one. “We are a team,” said Kristine Chiodo, Upper School Math Teacher and a co-faculty leader of the robotics team. “Our shirts say Collegiate. We are representing the School at a world-wide event.”
At the district competition, Dan Bartels, Collegiate’s STEAM Coordinator and a co-faculty leader of the robotics team, was honored with this year’s Woodie Flowers Award Finalist for the Chesapeake District, the highest award for mentors in FIRST Robotics. Faculty mentors are there to support the students who have hands-on responsibility for every aspect of robotics construction and competition. “What the students did was phenomenal,” Mr. Bartels observed proudly as the team took second in the district competition and earned an invitation to the FIRST Robotics World Championship.
The spirit of the FIRST Robotics World Championship is one of community and collaboration. Students and faculty mentors from around the world are able to gather together to share their love of all things STEAM. It’s an encouraging environment that gives participants space to grow as students and often connects them to professionals in the STEAM field.
“Worlds can give students avenues to professional career paths,” said Ms. Chiodo. “Our students have connected with people from Israel, India, France — people from all over the world. The experience can really be life changing.”
On Friday night at Worlds, Collegiate’s team was awarded the Creativity Award sponsored by Rockwell Automation. The award celebrates creativity that enhances strategy of play and was intentionally designed and not discovered. Collegiate used Autodesk Fusion 360 and artificial intelligence tools to stress map main components of the robot.
On Saturday morning, TORCH 5804 won their divisional round of the competition. Before this monumental victory, the team had never gone to the division playoffs — let alone finish victoriously.
This victory propelled Collegiate into the World Finals, and the team, as part of the Newton Division Alliance, competed in a series of round robins against the remaining top 24 teams of the entire competition. Their alliance partners were Jack in the Bot from Mill Creek, Wash., The Greybots from Atascadero, Calif., and Team Driven 1730 from Lee’s Summit, Mo. The alliance put in a strong performance and ultimately finished third among the six divisions.
“I just wanted to say how proud I am of our student robo athletes and our School,” reflected Greg Sesny, Upper School Science Teacher and a co-faculty leader of the team. “We just accomplished something I could never have dreamed of. We just finished third in the world! Wow! This accomplishment is not just for the members of the team but for every person affiliated with Collegiate.”
The Juniors and Seniors on TORCH 5804 were part of the initial robotics cohort back in 2016 when Middle School robotics and FIRST were founded at Collegiate. Since then, TORCH 5804 has qualified for the FIRST Robotics World Championship three times, but never has the team left such a triumphant mark on the tournament. “This is a very special group,” said Mr. Bartels, “I’ve been working with some of these students since they were in 5th and 6th Grade. We have all been working towards this moment, and this year we manifested this moment. We did it.”
The students spent countless hours and weekends in the robotics lab as a team designing and prototyping their robot. “To have these things that I’ve invested my own time and effort in come to fruition not just for me and my teammates, who have been doing it for this long, but for the School and to help the School progress is just everything,” said Aiden Foster, TORCH 5804’s driver, a Senior whose driving strategy played an important role in the team’s success. “We’ve put in all this time, and then we get to Worlds and everything is worth it — the connections we’ve made, the skills we’ve learned and all of the friends we’ve met make everything worth it.”
When the tournament concluded and the achievement began to take a more solid form for the members of TORCH 5804, Mr. Bartels noticed that members of his team were crestfallen. “There were tears at the end of the competition,” Mr. Bartels said. “Despite their achievement, our students were sad to see the robotics season end.”
The inveterate coach and mentor, Mr. Bartels tried to contextualize the immensity of the team’s accomplishment. “I told them, ‘It’s not over. This stage is finished, but there are so many ways this will impact your careers, and there are so many ways for you to remain in FIRST and transfer your success here into your success in higher education.’”
TORCH 5804 returns to Richmond this week.