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Materion-sponsored robotics team has ‘awesome experience’ at world championships

The Longfellow Middle School robotics team sponsored by Materion’s Lorain facility, one the school’s three five-student teams had earned a spot at the prestigious VEX Robotics World Championships, held at the convention center in Louisville, Ky. Presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation and Northrop Grumman, the April 25-28 event is the world’s largest robotics competition, attracting 30,000 attendees across middle school, high school and college divisions.

Longfellow’s Team Titanious was one of 183 middle school teams to qualify out of 20,000 teams from 50 countries that competed in 1,700 regional events. Thanks to the support of the Lorain School District and the team’s sponsors, all 14 members of the robotic s team were able to make the trip.

“It was a totally awesome experience for the team,” said Denise Fahrney, head coach and a career tech teacher at Longfellow. “Some of our students had never been outside of Ohio before. With all the activities, we were up at 6 every morning and didn’t get back to the hotel until 9:30 or 10:00 at night.”

The team placed 26th in the world in the Skills category and 55th in the Spirit category. They finished with a 5-5 record in their 10 matches--including some very close losses, Fahrney noted.

The 2-minute matches are played between competing alliances of two teams each in a 12-ft. x 12-ft. arena. This year, teams scored points by stacking plastic cones on goals, moving cones into zones, and maneuvering their robots into designated spots, all while jostling with competing robots. Key success factors include the design of the robot, skills of the driver, effective scouting of the competition, and teamwork between alliance partners.

The Longfellow team competed against or allied with 30 different teams from all parts of the U.S. as well as Canada, China and South Korea, said Fahrney.

“They met new friends from all over the world that they will remember for a lifetime,” she said. “One of our students speaks Mandarin, so he was able to easily communicate with the students from China. That was really empowering for him and an advantage for us in one of our matches.”

The Longfellow robotics team is only in its fourth year, but it has been an amazing addition to the school, said Fahrney, and the sponsors have been so supportive.
“We very happy with our sponsorship of the robotics team, and we hope to get more directly involved next school year,” said Lorain Plant Manager Nathan Goebel. “We have really enjoyed following the team's progress and are thrilled to see these fine young students so fired up about STEM fields. Their skills are quite impressive."

The process of building a robot naturally incorporates many STEM lessons and applications, Fahrney explained. It gives educators the tools they need to help students develop problem-solving skills and learn programming fundamentals. It teaches the engineering design process in a hands-on manner that challenges, motivates and inspires the students.

For example, as a local newspaper reported, the team went right back to work after the state championship, replacing “the steel chassis with a narrower aluminum one, hoping to add maneuverability and speed while subtracting weight.”

It’s no wonder that some companies use the VEX event to scout emerging robotics and engineering talent. “A number of companies now offer internships and scholarships to students based on their participation in the VEX program,” said Fahrney.

The season may be over but the team’s interest in robotics doesn’t fade.

“One of the best things about being at Worlds is that you get to be the first to see the reveal of next year’s game,” said Fahrney. “We are already talking and brainstorming for next season. We live, eat, breath robotics.”