Sunday, February 14, 2016

FIRST Explodes in Columbia County - Part 1

A lot happened since my last post. So much so that it's going to require multiple posts to capture it all.

It's hard to believe that we are now in our 6th FRC season. During our first few years we tossed around the idea of starting other teams in Columbia County, but with our struggles to obtain enough funding to secure our own future, it wasn't an idea that we actively pursued. I remember other FRC coaches telling me that it would take three years to secure sustainability, and they were correct. 

Our third season saw a considerable increase in sponsorship and we decided to use some of our funds to build our outreach robot, Magnum PSI. We wanted to find a way to gain awareness for FIRST and robotics in our community. Since football is such a popular activity here in Columbia County, we decided to design and build a t-shirt shooting robot to demonstrate at high school football games. We thought this would be a great way to excite the crowds while building support for STEM education.

Our Magnum PSI project turned out to be more successful than we ever could have imagined. Not only did we raise awareness, but through this project and everything that we've accomplished since then, we've truly given our community a case of FIRST fever. Thanks in part to Magnum's popularity, we went from raising just enough to cover our season to raising enough to finally go to two FRC regional events in 2015. We even ended up on the cover of a magazine!

In addition to raising money to sustain our team, we built a successful engineering technology program here at CHS. Through the generous support of PotashCorp White Springs, our largest sponsor, we acquired an industry grade 3D printer and a CNC router. This increased capability is evidenced by the evolution of our robots while enriching the experience of our engineering program. 

Along with this success came the forming of the first two FLL teams in Columbia County in 2014 - one at Epiphany Catholic School and the other at Summers Elementary School. We were excited to welcome them to the FIRST family and our team members mentored theirs on a regular basis. The community support for these new teams showed us that building a sustainable robotics program from elementary through high school was possible and set the course for something very exciting the next year.

Magnum PSI continues to be a big hit in Columbia County. He recently received an upgraded drive base thanks to our Engineering Technology 3 students which greatly improved his maneuverability. He can be seen regularly at football games and elementary school events, and most recently attended the North Florida FLL Regional Championship where we had the awesome opportunity to meet the president of FIRST, Don Bossi. We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and look forward to Magnum's future adventures.

To be continued .... 

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