If you’re anything like me, “Robotics” is a pretty intimidating term. Most people glaze over when they hear it (I will not lie, that had been me a few times). In the greater Penn High School community, there is a portion of students that work in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field. Within this, there is another tight-knit group: Robotics.

What is Robotics? Who are they? Most students graduate from Penn completely unaware of what they are. Is it a club? Is it a class? No one really knows (plot twist, it’s both). As someone who didn’t spend my childhood in the lab soldering or having mad scientist parents, I was sure I wasn’t bred for the group. Robotics was a daunting term. From my perspective, they were a group of young tech prodigies who just got together in the back of the school tinkering and building robots for… well who knows what really. In a lot of ways I wasn’t wrong, but it’s actually so much more.

Here’s the basics: Robotics is a class that meets for one block during the school day. There is no prerequisite to join, everyone is welcome. In fact newbies are encouraged to come! Even if you know nothing, like me. But, Robotics is also a club. Because Robotics does so much (not just building the ‘bot’, but also fundraising, meeting, and creating business contacts) Robotics is a mixture of business, engineering, manufacturing, computer science…this list goes on. It is not just the nerdy stuff you think.

Because students put in so much work, not only in class, but outside of class as well, they earn extra credits. Which means they are registered for two classes! Robotics is no group for faint of heart. They meet before and after school multiple days a week, and when the season starts up it becomes a full time job.

The brave would call it just as intense as a varsity sport, and the courageous would say it is more so. Just like any other sport, Robotics has an intense build season. Although it is short, only six weeks, it is extremely busy.

FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) starts with the release. The release is a live streamed event where teams everywhere, find out the information for the season. The goals, rules, field layout, etc. is given out. After this, teams have 6 weeks to build their bot. After much hard work, many late nights, and extreme amounts of cooperation, the bot is finally done, and it is time for Districts. Districts is the first time Penn FRC has the opportunity to compete against other schools, and it is our first look at what other teams are doing. Recently, Indiana FIRST switched to doing a District style for FRC. In fact, last year was the first year they tried it. It went so well though they decided to keep it! That is why Penn decided to put a bid to host one of this year’s district events. Recently we received the good news that we would indeed be hosing it! This event will be called INF District – St. Joseph Event

Hosting Districts is a big deal, and a huge honor. Districts will be the first round of competitions that will end at Worlds, which is hosted in St. Louis this year. Teams from the Michiana Area will come together to compete with robots, they too, have been working hard on. Of the 40 teams coming to compete, only a few will move on to the next round of competition. Penn hopes to lead the way among the local teams.

What is even more impressive than hosting Districts is the fact that our team is playing a major part. The community is helping along with our students and teammates. Although, for the most part, Districts will be planned, organized, ran, and hosted by the youth of Team 135. Penn Robotics have proven on every occasion to be responsible and mature enough to feat such a task, which is why it has been left in their hands.

This event will create lots of publicity for the Penn Robotics Program as well as the greater group of FIRST, in the local community. We hope to spread enthusiasm for STEM at the local level and show them what the brilliant minds of Penn High School, as well as the other schools, have to offer. Throughout Districts, and the process leading up until then, we want to spread the message of Penn Robotics and FIRST.

There is still very much that is unknown about what Districts will be like this year. We do know that is will be on March 11th and 12th at Penn High School in Mishawaka IN. But for the unknown, one thing is for sure; there are bound to be plenty of surprises!

-Thomas Blankenship and Kait Kelsey, first year FRC

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