The Brookings-Harbor High School robotics team will be able to enter an advanced robotics competition as the result of receiving $13,000 in grants from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and NASA.
Both highly competitive grants allowed Robotic Sciences Instructor Alan Chirinian to purchase new equipment and to enter the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition (FRC).
Without new equipment such as a computer numerically controlled (CNC) vertical mill, a CNC plasma cutter and prototyping machines, the program wouldn't have been competitive enough to receive the NASA grant, which helped fund the $6,000 entry fee.
"It's the highest level of robotics competition in the United States," Chirinian said, and is open to thousands of high schools.
For the competition, students in Chirinian's advanced robotics class will design and build robots to accomplish a challenge they will be given by event organizers.
In the past, BHHS students only competed in the FIRST Technology Challenge (FTC), a more affordable competition.
However, the BHHS program is well-known around the state; people from the Portland area were impressed with the program, and encouraged Chirinian to apply for grants to compete in FRC.
"This allows us to kind of put together all of the science and design skills that these kids have learned over the past couple of years," Chirinian said.
Chirinian's 15-student advanced robotics class will participate in FRC.
His goal is "to learn as much as we can this year, to have a competitive (robot) and to get as ready as we can for next year."
He would like his FTC team, which is comprised of intermediate students, "to do better than last year."
Chirinian's intermediate class, 3-D prototyping class and emerging technologies class are comprised of about 20 students each.
In total, there are about 100 students in the robotics program.
Although various levels of robotics are offered as classes, students often devote time after school, their weekends and holidays working on projects.
"They just love to be here," Chirinian said. "It's a club-like atmosphere."
Every student develops their own specialties.
While students in the advanced class can perform all the tasks well, some students excel in design and programming. Others focus on manufacturing and design, for example.
Junior Brandon Murphy enjoys "the mechanical part of everything and how I actually get to work with my hands," he said.
This is the third year Murphy has been involved in robotics.
He tried Chirinian's 3-D graphics class and liked it, so he decided to take additional classes.
"I've learned a lot about electric wiring ... just putting stuff together and a lot of designing for 'bots," Murphy said. "It's what I plan to go to college for."
Sophomore Benjamin Bowers decided to enroll in robotics after observing the class one day when he had some free time.
Bowers liked what students in the class were doing, and thought it would be a fun and interesting class, so he signed up.
"I like how different it is, and how it's a different way to learn," Bowers said. "You get to do way different stuff than you get to do in any other class."
This is his second year in the program.
Bowers will pursue robotics after high school as well.
The various levels of robotics have upcoming competitions during spring semester.
The first is an FRC ceremony on Jan 7. Students will learn what the competition is, and will be shown an animation of what the robots are expected to do.
During the weekend of Feb. 4, the FTC team will attempt to qualify for the state tournament.
On March 10, the FRC team will compete.
In April, students will attend a "battle of the 'bots" or combat competition, and in May, students will compete in the Electrothon Race, an electric race car competition.
While prepping and competing, students learn real science and engineering skills; to think and solve problems; to use skills they already have, and apply them to brand new situations; to design; to computer program and to manufacture using the highest technology equipment available, Chirinian said.
"I feel that it gives further validation that our program is admired and supported by others outside of the local community," he said of receiving the two grants.