Three Cheers for the Gatorbots!

The Upper School’s new robotics team performed impressively at this year’s FIRST Robotics competition, which was held during the weekend of April 5-7. The Gatorbots were among 54 teams from the New York City area that competed in the electrifying competition at the Track and Field Armory in Upper Manhattan.

“Given that we were a rookie team, we did really well,” said science teacher Dr. Prasad Akavoor, who coaches the team with Vivienne Forrester, the Upper School Technology Department Head. This is the first year Chapin participated as an independent enterprise, having completed jointly with Brearley for several years.

“Most important, the girls were high spirited during the build season (early January through mid February) and were committed to the task at hand,” continued Dr. Akavoor, who has been involved with Chapin robotics for more than a dozen years. “The core members of the team put in a tremendous amount of hours after school and also during most weekends.”

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit organization that promotes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through vigorous robotics programming across the nation and internationally. For the global competition, teams from around the world have just six weeks to build and program an industrial-size robot to perform designated tasks and to compete against other student robots in a series of timed contests. This year’s theme, “Deep Space,” commemorated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and culminated in a striking array of rocket-inspired robots.

At Chapin, Upper School Robotics, open to students in Classes 8-12, is an after-school program that runs throughout the year and is made possible through the generosity of the Swarzman Family Robotics Program. During the season, students have the opportunity to work closely with their fellow team members as well as the coaches and professional mentors, most of whom have strong backgrounds in engineering, programming and team building.

FIRST’s motto is “gracious professionalism,” which requires that all teams cooperate and compete at the same time. There is also abundant opportunity for team members to sharpen their leadership skills, including acting as captains or co-captains.

“A huge part of my responsibility as captain is being a role model to our younger students,” commented team captain Erin Donahue, who is in Class 11 and a longstanding participant in Chapin robotics. “For many of our members, this is their first exposure to robotics or STEM outside of the classroom, so I definitely view getting younger students excited about engineering as one of my roles as captain. Especially as an all-girls team, encouragement and developing confidence when you are first starting out is very important.”

Erin praised the entire 17-member team for their outstanding efforts and gave a special shout-out to the new Class 8 members, describing them as “incredible young engineers….their willingness and enthusiasm were unwavering throughout the long build season and competition.”

Wearing official Gatorbots attire – teal-blue T-shirts and dark-grey hooded sweatshirts, both emblazoned with the team logo – the accomplished young roboticists certainly demonstrated skill, perseverance, bravery and grace under fire leading up to and during the action-packed FIRST competition. Judging from their bright smiles, they also seemed to enjoy themselves beyond measure.

Although the Gatorbots ultimately did not win enough points to advance to the next round, it was an unforgettable experience for each participant and the team as a whole. Plans are already underway for next year’s contest.

“I think this was our best performance in the time I have been on the team,” noted Erin. “Our teamwork and communication really flourished. I was blown away by how much we were able to build and program even under the stress of competition.” 

Congratulations one and all!

Browse photos from the competition below: