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Senior girls help advance Orion High School robotics team to state competition

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Left to right: Tim Monson, Micah Knox, Avery Monson, Kaitlyn Greenwood, Colin Essary, Mackinzie Washburn, Madison Greenwood, Eric Thorndyke, Ray Parrish

The Orion High School robotics team, "All Charged Up," competed in the Peoria/Western Illinois First Tech Challenge qualifier event on February 12 at Peoria Manual High School. The team received third place for the Inspire award and first place for the Motivate award. The team now advances to the state tournament at Elgin Community College on March 12.

Three senior girls, Avery Monson, Madison Greenwood and Mackenzie Washburn head up the Orion team. Monson acted as the team captain, and aspires to major in engineering at the University of Nebraska. Teammate Greenwood was leader of the business and outreach team, and will head to Augustana next fall. Washburn was a member of the sub-build team, and has not yet decided on which university she will attend.  

Greenwood and Monson have been involved in the robotics program since middle school.

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According to industry sources, only about 25% of women work in STEM related jobs, and only 13% of engineers are women. These figures were published by Automata in October 2021. 

"The Inspire award is the highest honor that can be awarded in an FTC event. Being the third place recipient is a testimony to the time and effort that the team put into the program beginning with the work last summer. This is the first time in the 8 year history of OHS robotics that a team has received one of the Inspire award" remarked Ray Parrish, advisor. 

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge program is more than just working with robots. Teams are expected to develop a business plan, a sustainability plan, a fundraising plan, make connections with professionals in the STEM field, and promote STEM throughout the community through outreach as well as design and build a robot to perform a new challenge each year.  This year's challenge was called Freight Frenzy.  

There is a place in FTC for students no matter whether their interests are technical, non-technical, or mechanical. Students are expected to create an engineering portfolio (maximum of 15 pages) that highlights their accomplishments in all of the above areas.

"The Orion teams have been busy since June doing outreach and making connections.  In June, they made STEM activity kits to hand out to the kids on the Andover parade route and then they set up an area on the tennis courts where the kids could drive the robots. In the fall they gave a presentation at Western Township Library to kids and parents, and helped the Middle School robotics teams prepare for their December tournament," added Parrish.

The Inspire award is given to the team that best embodies the ‘challenge’ of the FIRST Tech Challenge program. The team that receives this award is a strong ambassador for FIRST programs and a role model FIRST team. This team is a top contender for many other judged awards and is a gracious competitor. The Inspire Award winner is an inspiration to other teams, acting with Gracious Professionalism® both on and off the playing field. This team shares their experiences, enthusiasm and knowledge with other teams, sponsors, their community, and the judges. Working as a unit, this team will have shown success in performing the task of designing and building a robot. 

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Required Criteria for the Inspire Award: 

  • Team must show respect and Gracious Professionalism® to everyone they meet at a FIRST Tech Challenge event. 
  • Team must be a strong contender for several other judged awards. The Inspire Award celebrates the strongest qualities of all the judged awards. 
  • The team must be an ambassador for FIRST programs. They demonstrate and document their work in their community. 
  • Team must be positive and inclusive, and each team member contributes to the success of the team. 
  • Team must submit an engineering portfolio. The engineering portfolio must include engineering content, team information and a team plan. The entire engineering portfolio must be high quality, thoughtful, thorough, concise, and well-organized. 
  • Robot design must be creative and innovative, and the robot performs reliably on the field. The team communicates clearly about their robot design and strategy to the judges. 
  • Team interview session must be professional and engaging. 

The first place Inspire award recipient is not eligible for any other awards, but the second and third place Inspire award recipients are eligible for one additional award.  

Required Criteria for the Motivate Award: 

  •  Team must show respect and Gracious Professionalism® to everyone they meet at a FIRST Tech Challenge event. 
  •  Team must submit an engineering portfolio. The engineering portfolio must include a team organization plan, which could describe their future goals and the steps they will take to reach those goals. Examples of what the plan could include are team identity, fund-raising goals, sustainability goals, timelines, outreach, finances, and community service goals. 
  •  The team must be an ambassador for FIRST programs. 
  •  Team must be able to explain the individual contributions of each team member, and how these apply to the overall success of the team. 

Strongly Suggested Criteria for the Motivate Award: 

  •  Team takes part in their presentation, and actively engages with the judges. 
  •  Team shows a creative approach to materials that market their team and FIRST. 
  •  Team can clearly show the successful recruitment of people who were not already active within the STEM community. 
  •  Team could also summarize experiences and lessons learned from outreach.

There are FTC teams from Orion, Riverdale, Moline, Rock Island, Kewanee, Fulton, Knoxville, Princeton, East Moline, and Macomb in the Western Illinois league, but we would like to have more teams. There are 3 year grants available from FIRST Illinois to help teams get started.