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Operational Test Command engineers from Transformation Technology Directorate volunteer each year to help students at Shoemaker High School in Killeen, Texas build a competitive robot. The Shoemaker "Cyberwolves" Team have won at least one award each year that they have participated. Last year, they earned the Judges Award, one of the most prestigious awards at the FIRST Robotics Regional competition in Houston. Courtesy photo
Operational Test Command Mentors
Students in Robotics Competition
By Maria L. Yost / Sentinel

FORT HOOD, Texas, Jan. 28, 2005 – Early morning on Jan. 8, employees of the Operational Test Command joined students from Shoemaker High School to kick off the planning for the 2005 FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Shoemaker High School robotics team, known as the CyberWolves, participated in the FIRST Robotics Competition for the last five years under the mentorship of command soldiers and employees.

“We’ve tapped into Fort Hood since we’re so close to West Fort Hood,” Nelda Howton, Shoemaker High School principal, said. “There are scientists and engineers to serve as mentors, both contractors and active duty. Also, 75 percent of our students are military dependents.”

Operational Test Command began sponsoring the Shoemaker team in 2000 when Gen. (Ret.) Robert M. Shoemaker, former commander and the school’s namesake, saw this as an opportunity to get kids interested in science and engineering, Sofia Sanchez, the command’s public affairs officer, said.

The competition began when FIRST announced this year’s objective and rules. There is a different objective every year. For example, last year, the robots had to shoot hoops.

This year, the theme is “Triple Play” because the goal is to stack tetrahedrons on a large rectangular field.

Each team receives a kit with the basic parts, but it’s up to the individual teams how they build and program the robots to meet the objective.

The CyberWolves will have six weeks to plan a strategy and build the robot. At the end of the six weeks, the team must send the completed robot to the site of the regional competition.

All of the work is done after school and on weekends at Shoemaker High School.

The Operational Test Command provides approximately 15-25 mentors who volunteer approximately 15 hours per week during the planning and building phase. In addition, a core group of five mentors sees the team through the whole competition process.

Vincente Gonzales, OTC electronics engineer, has been volunteering as a mentor since 2000.

“The best thing is with these high school kids,” Gonzales said. “It motivates them. Sometimes they live in a little world of their peer group and this exposes them to a bigger world. Robotics includes mechanical, electrical and pneumatic systems. Every student has the ability to excel, they learn to work hands-on and make the connections.

“It’s a lot of fun I got hooked,” Gonzales explained. “They (the students) have been taking over more every year. We

will come in three times per week and Saturdays for the next six weeks, we volunteer about 15 hours per week. That’s just for planning and building the robot. But after we send it off, we still spend time strategizing and sometimes building a backup robot.”

“Even after the robot is gone, they have to develop three to four different strategies to get points,” Bruce Coons, command electrical engineer said. “They have to do this with limits on weight and electrical systems.

“We complete back-up if parts and money are available,” Coons explained. “That way they can practice training and driving and work on the programs. This keeps us busy between the ship date and the competition.”

Coons accompanied the team at the regional competition and said he enjoys watching the kids work together and come up with ideas.

“It was great to see 20,000 very bright screaming teenagers (at the regional competition),” Coons said. “There was a lot of energy and they were all very polite, no fights. As a matter of fact, they all supported one another. For example one team’s robot didn’t show and other teams donated parts and things to build a robot on the spot.”

Each year the CyberWolves have won an award in the regional competition. Last year was the first year Shoemaker was eligible to compete in the national competition.

Willie Rankin, 17, participated in the competition for the last two years. The Shoemaker senior originally heard about the CyberWolves on a school announcement about careers in engineering.

“I like the excitement, meeting new people and seeing all the new things people can do with the same idea,” Rankin said. “I want to help out the team and earn scholarships through robotics. I plan on going to the University of Southern California and study aerospace engineering.”

He said working with the command mentors helped him understand the engineering field and helped prepare him for his future career.

“Being with them helped me learn much more about engineering,” Rankin explained. “I met people and made connections.”

Although the robotics club is typically for grades 9-12, eighth-grader David Murphy joined this year.

“I plan to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study electronics, software and robot engineering,” Murphy said. “I plan to revolutionize technology and make an artificial intelligence super computer that can think for itself. I’ll get started here learning the basics.”

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