RED OAK — In a creative team collaboration of computational skills mixed with analytical knowledge, 14 Red Oak seniors were recognized during their own version of a national signing day, committing to the next step of their education.

“We’re fighting the stereotype of just a couple of nerdy kids building a robot after school,” chuckled Bryan Rodgers, Red Oak High School robotics teacher. “That’s far from what it is.

"[...] This is more than just an after school type program. There are about 40 on the team, and we do everything from essay writing to videography, finances, marketing, and administration. So we don’t just build a robot, and it’s a very large group of things we do."

Out of the 84 Career and Technology courses Red Oak ISD offers, Rogers coached his students through the ultimate "sport of the mind" conducted by the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) competition in Texas.

The competition required strict parameters and limited resources on a six-week time frame where students were challenged to brand a team, raise funds, build and program industrial-sized robots, and compete through a series of difficult tasks.

“The programming is extensive, and they used industrial programs like LabVIEW, which isn’t a student program, it’s what the professionals use,” Rogers articulated. “The Triumph president came through one day and saw the robots, and the students told him all about it, and he said, ‘This is what we need. We need people that can do this.’”

“We even had one girl visit a college and talked about what they’d be doing her freshman year, and it’s things we’ve already done with this. So we’re already doing college stuff,” he complimented of his students’ success.

From computer science to mechanical engineers, architectural engineers, and everything in-between, the seniors created four robots, costing around $16,000 in total.

Competing in the FIRST competition through a list of challenges, the students had to design and build a machine that could complete each task without “human assistance.”

From making high and low steam pressure to score a basket to installing gears to engage rotors for points, and climbing a rope for bonus points – Rogers’ seniors' robots completed each mission.

“Their dedication to design, problem-solving, and troubleshooting, and seeing things come to life that they designed on the computer, it was great,” Rogers smiled. “They have a passion for that and each other, and each challenge was not something they shied away from - they attacked it head on. I was extremely proud of them.”

Inspired by the FIRST Chairman’s Award recognition of young aspiring engineers through a signing day, Rogers decided to adopt the idea and apply it for the first time this year.

“Well, I’m also a coach too, and the kids in sports always get a signing day. So one of the teams they have at the FIRST Chairman’s Award Competitions came up with the concept of having a signing day,” Rogers explained. “It’s a nation-wide event, and there’s like 4,000 teams around the world that do this now, so I said, ‘Well, that’s an awesome idea, let’s do it.’”

On May 17, the 14 engineering seniors were honored for their outstanding talents and achievements with their families and peers cheering them on.

“We had the seniors line up, and I would call out their names and tell how many years they’ve been involved with the program," They came down and signed and said what they were going to do in college. We had a great audience there with parents, and it meant a lot to the students. You could just see it; they were beaming.”

“We had a display behind them, and then we did a ‘send off’ with the drum team behind the robotics team and walked down the hallways of the school,” he described the moment.

“I heard a lot of people say, ‘Man, there’s a lot of kids on that robotics team.’ And I said, ‘They need to hear that,’” he grinned.

Inventing tomorrow, Rogers is confident in his seniors’ future as they go off to their perspective colleges.

“It’s called the ‘new cool,’ and a lot of these kids are getting involved because they know they’ll never be that one guy who never catches the football on Friday night or the one athlete that gets that scholarship,” Rogers began.

“Well, FIRST puts over 50-million in scholarships, and some kids are getting full rides for doing this. We want people to realize that these kids are going on to design our cell phones, fighter jets, building bridges – I think the founder of FIRST says it best, ‘In this, every kid can go pro,’” he encouraged. “We had 14 seniors this year and wanted to give them that acknowledgment of continuing their education because most of them are going off to be engineers and I couldn't be more proud."


Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer