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Hartford campus freshmen mentor high school robotics engineers

by Marcia Roth-Tucci - May 15, 2006

Sahand Dailamipour and Mike Pelland were first introduced to robotics through a program at Farmington High School.

This year as students at UConn’s Greater Hartford campus, Dailamipour, a freshman engineering student, and Pelland, a biology major, continued in the program as mentors, to help inspire kids of all ages to be more interested in the sciences.

“We were typical high school science geeks who discovered how cool it is to design, build, and be engaged in robotics,” says Dailamipour.

“The FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was really important to both of us, so we decided to stay on as mentors.”

The international program, founded by the inventor of the Segway electric scooter, teaches kids not only how to use technology, but also about fair competition and gracious professionalism. In addition, it provides opportunities for teens, adults, schools, and corporations to come together.

While the final robotics products are entered in regional and international competitions, the main focus of the program is to teach students about using technology and applying professionalism to their daily lives.

The Farmington team, with the two UConn students as mentors, competed in the Canadian National Championship, from March 30 through April 1.

Although their robot “mostly did what it was supposed to,” it was not selected as the winner.

The team was recognized, however, with a highly prized Engineering Inspiration Award for a children’s book, Dream FIRST, and a hands-on science program the team designed for elementary-aged students.

“When a team builds a robot, it’s very close to a real-life project,” says Pelland.

“There’s the conceptual stage, design, deadlines, problem solving, collaborations, budgets, everything.”

Daliamipour adds, “Our group – Team 178, The Enforcers – had some fantastic partners, local corporations like ebm-papst, Otis, General Electric, Sikorsky. We had engineering mentors and help with supplies and tools.

Theodore Janeczko of Farmington High School works on a robotics project. Two UConn students at the Greater Hartford Campus were mentors for the project.
Theodore Janeczko of Farmington High School works on a robotics project. Two UConn students at the Greater Hartford Campus were mentors for the project.
Photo supplied by Sahand Dailamipour

"Mostly, though, the part that’s so cool is the way everyone works together. We have so much fun, shouting and cheering at competitions, getting silly, coming up with costumes, and stuff like that. It’s great to be learning so much while having such a good time.”

In the robotics competitions, robots must complete an autonomous mode, which is pre-programmed and lasts about 10 seconds.

This year’s task was to shoot 7-inch foam balls to score goals. This is done in three separate stages: offense, defense, and free-for-all.

“Lots can go wrong. We had a roller fall off, and once our robot crashed into a wall,” says Pelland.

“No one on our team had any voice left by the time the competition was over.”

Both Dailamipour and Pelland say they will stay on with the Farmington program next year and continue working on the school kids program.

“We’ve gone into elementary schools to read the prototype of the book, Dream FIRST,” says Dailamipour.

“Now we’re working with a group of elementary kids designing a playground. They want to build a roller coaster. We try to help them keep their designs reasonable, but it’s great that they’re using their imaginations.

"We want them to think like engineers and be excited about science and technology. That’s what this is all about.”

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