Austin-East robotics club wins first trophy

Austin-East Robotics Club t-shirt
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It's a high school team with matching t-shirts but no special shoes or helmets.

"I love robotics," Olivia Morris said.

That's why students join the Robotics Club at Austin-East High School.

Dafala Mobley is a senior who has been in the club since it started four years ago.

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"Over the last four years doing robotics my leadership skills have gotten way better. I'm able to lead a team of some amazing students," he said.

The amazing students just won a trophy for second place at the Robo-Rodeo at the Tennessee Valley Fair last month. It's the team's first ever trophy, but it won't be the last.

"We want to be in a higher place. Second was ok but we want to be first," Olivia said.

Austin-East is part of FIRST Robotics, an international high school robotics organization.

At the beginning of the season, a specific challenge is announced. Teams then have six weeks to build a fully-functional robot that can perform certain tasks to earn the team points. 

"Not many people are able to work with power tools," Dafala said.

He handles a lot of the mechanical work. Each team member has a specialty role and they also brainstorm together.

"The hands on experience actually makes you think more about what you are doing and how to be more careful, more tedious work," he said.

Olivia explained that the work continues even during the competitions.

"We go do one round and then we're like 'How can we make this better in this time frame?' And then we modify it. And then we go out do another round. And we keep getting better every round," she said.

Tanisha Baker is the robotics club sponsor and chief cheerleader. She said all FIRST robotics teams rely on volunteer professional mentors to lend their time and talents to guide each team.

"Eric Johnson who is with Technology Cooperative and that whole non-profit is designed to build up STEM areas in urban communities. So he is our unsung hero. He is an engineer for Jewelry TV and he comes over every week, goes to every competition, spends a lot of his own time and resources to make sure that the kids have the technical skills necessary to build robots and compete," she said.

Building robots builds their confidence and teaches time management and team work.

Even the competitions emphasize collaboration.

"There's something called gracious professionalism. So they learn how to compete without tearing down another team. The whole thing is designed to build others up," she said.

"Yes its fun," Olivia said. "But we're actually here to make something of it to show everybody that we have a robotics team and we are actually accomplishing something and we can go out and use this to become better."

Austin-East Principal Nathan Langlois said the students are developing valuable skills.

"They are developing the skills of the future," he said. "And with those skills they will be able to have high paying careers, high paying jobs, they are going to start their own companies and they are going to make a difference in the robotics industry and minority students especially need to get involved in doing that."

Their next chance to win a trophy is next month at a competition in Kentucky.

The overall team goal is to make it to the national and world tournaments.

"Our goal is to build a better team with a better robot," Tanisha Baker said.

And build a better student.