FIRST: Endorsed by Teachers and Students Alike

Reading time ( words)

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a robotics program at Oregon’s West Linn High School led by computer science and engineering teacher Tim Manes. Barry Matties caught up with Tim and his student team, 2BDetermined, at the FIRST Pacific Northwest District robotics event in Salem, Oregon. The team has excelled at the local and regional levels and was invited to participate in the world competition in April, held in Houston, Texas. 

Barry Matties: I’m here with Tim Manes at the FIRST district event. How is it going?

Tim Manes: It’s getting close to the finals. This is the fourth week, a lot of teams have had time to refine their robot, and the competition’s getting stronger. 

Matties: You teach at West Linn High School and you’re in charge of the school’s robotics team. Tell me what that experience is like for you.

Manes: Coaching students in robotics is extremely rewarding. I started as a math teacher and slowly started to build an engineering program during the day, which grew into FIRST Robotics Competition. Now we have a substantial number of students who are getting experience they wouldn’t get in a normal classroom environment. It’s very rewarding.

Matties: What is the biggest takeaway for students who are participating in this event or with their FIRST program?

Manes: Every student who walks through the classroom door for the first time has never seen a machine. They’ve probably never riveted, or used CAD or CAM. So, between the time they first walk through the door, and when they show up at an event, most of these students have experienced things they’d never imagined they would have an opportunity to, especially in high school.

Matties: Now, one of the students was talking to me about how this has really helped him learn to problem solve and think logically.

Manes: I say it all the time that we’re all problem solvers. We get up in the morning, and all day long we are solving problems. Some problems we can solve one time, like how to tie our shoes. But new problems always come up, so it’s such an important skill. Students are capable of being great problem solvers, they just need the commitment and perseverance to understand the problem and find a resolution.

Matties: What is your role in terms of actually building the unit? Are you hands-on?

Manes: I teach each one of those kids and they build the robot. There’s also a lot of “off season” training that we do with students. We find opportunities to ensure that every student, even the ones up in the bleachers right now, have touched robots. For example, we started trying to create a powder coat oven about three years ago, before the pandemic, because the robots are powder-coated black. Because I have a lot of students, this was an opportunity for some of them to get their hands on a part of the robot. They took ownership by finishing the powder coat oven and learned how to powder coat.

Matties: I was talking to your student Dylan, and he was so excited that they were designing, CNCing machine parts, and powder coating. These are the kinds of things that you don’t think about in a program like this, but it really does create opportunity for everybody.

Manes: Absolutely. Students are scouting so that we can make the right decisions when it comes to alliance selection. Another example is when students become specialists of individual components. They design, prototype, and test it, then they install them on the robot. If something breaks on that robot, there’s a certain person or group of students who know how to deal with that.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the April 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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