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Friday, February 28, 2014

Chairman's 2014 - Essay

"I think it's so cool that you can pick up the guitar and create something that didn't exist five minutes ago. You can write something that no one has ever heard before. You have music at your fingertips," vocalized Michelle Branch. This mentality has set the tempo of our team since 2009. We, FRC Team 3313 Mechatronics, strive not only to reach the stars, but also to take our place among them. Since the onset of our team, we have worked to build a future for our community, for our sponsors, and for our fellow FIRST teams. To our community, we are a group of high school students who build robots. To our sponsors, we are future innovators. To other teams, we are the crazy team willing to try anything. To our own team members and mentors, we are a family. The long nights of bonding through Rock Band have brought our team closer, creating a home outside of home. We are more than just a robotics team: we are a group of individuals who can cultivate the future of science and engineering into the fame and glory rock bands hold to this day.

FRC 3313 eagerly works to expand outreach in the community. When we had just begun, our robot was our main focus; ergo, not taking time to realize ways we could affect our community. Recently, we tackled the project of raising awareness within our community. Everyone knows high schools have a football team, but how many know there is a FIRST robotics team? We always explore new avenues to expose the community to our team.

Annually, we use clever ways to spread the voice of FIRST. For instance, we held the Bydlon Beard Off. This was an event at our high school for students and staff to donate towards styles of beards. The beard that raised the most money resulted in our head coach shaving his beard into mutton chops, while the school and local press watched. We also spread FIRST in our community by attending the annual career fair. Team members informed upcoming freshman about the new FTC classes being offered to them. These FTC classes will allow students to participate in robotics--even with an after school activity.

In our annual effort with the Homecoming parade, we had a float with our robot on it. Over five-hundred people saw our work. While we may be in the Homecoming Parade each year, it's noteworthy for two FRC 3313 members to be nominated for Homecoming King and Queen and even less predictable for those two robotics members to receive it. This year, Bryce Klang and Lacey Werman were awarded Homecoming King and Queen. This was a cherished moment for our team. This shows FIRST robotics has been accepted and admired within our school.

For the first time, our team presented at a city council meeting. The presentation went harmonically and we impressed the board. A few months later, we were invited to attend and present at the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Conference. At the conference, over one-hundred city council members from across the state of Minnesota attended. It held a daunting crowd, but also a grand experience. In the presentation before ours, a man described the difficulties of traveling to the Twin Cities for meetings. He explained how people from rural cities, like Alexandria, do not find the drive to be beneficial. Afterward, we gave our presentation and related the problem with ours--we often struggle to determine if an event in the Twin Cities is worthwhile. After finishing, we were thanked by an Alexandria city council member for a stunning show.

Other ways our team strives to build an enhanced community is by participating in volunteer work. For the past two years, we've partook in the Empty Bowls project to raise money for the hungry. As well for the first time, we volunteered at the local food shelf and spent hours sorting food and checking expiration dates. This allowed many of us to realize how fortunate we are and become more passionate about helping others. This passion to assist others has further enriched our community.

Just before bagging our robot at build season's end, our team annually gives a demonstration at a basketball halftime show. Our first year didn't go as planned, but we gained fresh experiences. Center-stage for our performance, we believed we could catch any ball thrown at us, but our robot hijacked the show with it's own choreographed dance. It acted self-aware, but in reality, its wireless connection was lagging. However, our spirits uplifted, we've worked to improve by using a network wire instead of a wireless transmitter. With a little bit of practice and planning, all the cords tend to untangle themselves, and we've been able to put on a dazzling show.

Now, drum roll please for our sponsors! For three years, our team has participated in bi-monthly meetings with the Packaging Machine Manufacturing Consortium (PMMC), which consists of Aagard, Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, Alexandria Technical and Community College, Douglas Machine, and Massman Automation Designs. These meetings allow students to build real-life skills and obtain an inside glimpse of the how companies collaborate. At meetings, we frequently spoke of our progress and the possibility of FTC and FLL teams in our community. Without asking, they granted us an additional $2000. As a result, Alexandria's first FTC team was formed, Team 7799 Autobotics, a middle school only team. High school students served as mentors to younger students. By helping the students, parents became more involved and we gained three engineering mentors for our FRC team.

During the 2013 season, our team gave a demonstration at Massman for the Tours of Manufacturing. After an amazing performance, we were granted the opportunity to give more demonstrations with Aagard and Donnelly. Afterward, the engineers gave us tours of the companies. While on the tours, they were shocked to discover the number of females who showed an interest in STEM and we revealed we have more females than males on our team. After the tours, students expressed a growing hunger for STEM careers.

Another event in which we worked closely with a sponsor was at the Awake the Lakes Ribfest, a community gathering held by Massman. They requested us as entertainment during the rib making contest. The kids attending had been eager to drive and shoot Frisbees from our robot. Seeing the enthusiasm from the youth is a worthwhile part of being on a FIRST team.

Each summer, we attend the Douglas Machine company picnic. At the picnic, we gave a short description about FIRST to employees and show off our robot: the employees are always impressed with our work. Many asked about our program and through this demonstration, we gained mentors to aid our team.

This coming year, we will be attending the Pack Expo in Chicago for a second time. This event is a packaging machine manufacturing showcase where 1,100 companies and over 200,000 people attend. Massman, a sponsor, pays for the entire trip. Our team takes a few students who convey an interest in STEM. We give presentations about FIRST throughout the day and worked with other FRC teams from across the country. Massman had been so impressed by our team the first time that they invited us back.

Working with FIRST teams is a must for FRC 3313. An average morning begins with students glancing at pixels of their digital clocks, questioning why they must wake before dawn on a Saturday. The answer is simple: we are from Alexandria, Minnesota--a rural team. Most FIRST events are held in the Twin Cities, at least two hours away. The students and mentors must get up at 4 A.M. and leave by 5 A.M. to arrive punctually. We try to attend many events to make every student's FIRST experience superb. Each year, we travel over 3,000 miles within the state for a mere 12 events.

At many events, we give presentations to aid fellow FIRST teams. Some events we have attended include the Minne-Regional and SPLASH training. From personal experience, we know this is valuable to other teams, and it helps the West Central teams to become part of the society the Twin Cities' teams have built. We've even worked towards building a West Central Alliance. Working with other teams is a great part of the FIRST program. We have even driven to a Duluth regional simply to watch and cheer on fellow teams.

In forming alliances, creating unified relationships has been our true rhythm. Last year, at the 10,000 Lakes Regional, we directly helped fifteen teams and were nominated for the Gracious Professionalism Award by four teams--and we graciously received it. One team, 2570, we assisted by rebuilding, rewiring, and recomposing the programming code on their robot. We stayed until the inspectors were urging us to leave at 8 P.M. It was terrific to be able to work with 2570 and develop stronger coopertition. We provided a helping hand, knowing they would be our competitors the next morning. Thus, we had the simple satisfaction we could make their regional exemplary.

For our final act, we will be composing more arrangements for our future. Over the next three years, Team 3313's head coach will be teaching FLL summer classes and FTC classes. We hope the FIRST classes will be a success and lead to a future FRC class. We will be hosting an off-season event in Alexandria this fall. A goal as a team will be to increase involvement in engineering and FIRST programs in rural Minnesota. Our team aspires to be able to work with other teams regularly.

FRC 3313 has the power to build, write, or create something that didn't exist moments ago. We never tell ourselves we can't do it, but rather, we know we must. We will show our community, our sponsors, and our fellow FIRST teams we are not only high school students, future employees, or some crazy team, but rather a group of individuals who can cultivate the future of science and engineering. As a team we will catch the spotlight and shine with the support of our community, sponsors, and fellow FIRST teams.

We can finally take our place among the stars.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chairman's 2014 - Executive Summary and Pictures

1. Briefly describe the impact of the FIRST program on team participants with special emphasis on the 2013/2014 year and the preceding two to five years
FIRST has been crucial to students on FRC 3313. It has impacted students by encouraging them to form strong bonds through Rock Band--a multiplayer video game--and also gain presentation and public speaking skills. A main impact that FIRST has had with our team is the amount of recent alumni that have gone to pursue higher education in STEM. In the past four years, 18 out of 19 students are in college for STEM majors. Three members have gotten the opportunity to work paid jobs with our sponsors.

2. Describe the impact of the FIRST program on your community with special emphasis on the 2013/2014 year and the preceding two to five years

FRC 3313 consistently works in the community. We have been on the local news twice, explaining to our community about FIRST robotics. Not only have we been on the news channel, but also in the local newspaper after every major event. Twice a year, the team hosts a Community Night during the off-season, and an Open House during the build season. We have also presented to many clubs, such as the Rotary Club, the Sertoma Club, and the Lion's Club describing FIRST robotics.

3. Team's innovative or creative method to spread the FIRST message

Captivation of all ages, six or sixty, is one of our primary goals to spread the FIRST message into the community. Fundraising is made exciting to all contributors, like the innovative Bydlon Beard-Off or Sadie Hawkins Dance. Our team was interviewed on a local radio channel, describing our team. During the build season, the team took time off to visit an Assisted Living Home, ensuring FIRST is known to a diverse set of ages.

4. Describe examples of how your team members act as role models and inspire other FIRST team members to emulate

At FIRST competitions, Team 3313 shows role model traits to fellow teams. FRC 3313 has won the Team Spirit Award at 3 different events in the past year, including a regional. Other FRC teams join our cheers and dances throughout competitions. At events like the Minne-Regional and SPLASH Training, we share advice and experience from our team. One of the main presentations is on Public Relations, it shows teams how to spread their experiences through social media, such as YouTube or Twitter.

5. Describe the team's initiatives to help start or form other FRC teams

Similar to how our team worked to create FTC classes at our new high school, we will continue to work with our school board to create an FRC class. This class would potentially be offered at the Alexandria's new high school, depending on the success of our FTC class. Students would work as a team to build an FRC robot and even compete with them at competitions. This would allow a variety of students who do not have time outside of school to participate in FIRST.

6. Describe the team's initiatives to help start or form other FIRST teams (including Jr.FLL, FLL, & FTC)

Expanding FIRST robotics in our community, especially FTC, has been a large focus of FRC 3313. Not only have we begun an FTC team at our middle school, we also pushed our school board to create a FTC class. Next year, this class will be offered at Alexandria's new high school. Students will work in teams and build FTC robots. These teams of students will even attend competitions. This will allow students with after school activities to partake in the wonders of FIRST.

7. Describe the team's initiatives on assisting other FIRST teams (including Jr.FLL, FLL, FTC, & FRC) with progressing through the FIRST program

FRC 3313 has been working to build relations with FRC teams and aid them. Last year during build season, we drove through a blizzard to help FRC 3244 with build functions. FRC 2538 visited our team and we worked to help them fix parts on their robot. During build season, we had an email chain with other teams and offered them help. We also held a small off-season event to hangout and form bonds with other teams. While at competitions, we also sit near our local teams and cheer with them.

8. Describe how your team works with other FIRST teams to serve as mentors to younger or less experienced FIRST teams (includes Jr.FLL, FLL, FTC, & FRC teams)

This year, Team 3313 took a big step with the FIRST program and formed Alexandria's first FTC team. 7799 Autobotics, has 9 middle school members with 4 high school and adult mentors. They did not win the tournament, but placed third in the Inspire Award. They will be attending state competition. FRC 3313 is also notorious for sharing everything we do through YouTube, and even mentoring other teams by responding to comments and emails we receive from other teams.

9. Describe your Corporate/University Sponsors

Packaging Machine Manufacturers Consortium (PMMC) which consists of:
Massman Automation Designs
Douglas Machine
Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission (AAEDC)
Alexandria Technical and Community College
Tri-State Manufacturers’ Association
Youth As Resources
United Way
HPS Rental
Jefferson High School
Alexandria Area Businesses
Randy Fischer Real Estate
Elden’s Fresh Food
Pete’s County Market
Pizza Ranch

10. Describe the strength of your partnership with your sponsors with special emphasis on the 2013/2014 year and the preceding two to five years
FRC 3313 keeps relations within sponsorships strong between the corporations and the team. In bi-monthly meetings, FRC 3313 updates the PMMC, one of our largest sponsors, about current and future events. A presentation and a tour were also scheduled at WASP. These type of events have made visiting our sponsors a tradition. We stay connected with our sponsors by participating in the Open Line Radio show by request of the AAEDC. Our three engineering mentors came from sponsor companies as well.

11. Describe how your team would explain what FIRST is to someone who has never heard of it

FIRST or, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, has teams of students who work with mentors and businesses from their community to build a robot for a game that FIRST announces and changes each year. Students have a time limit, a rulebook, and a budget to build the robot. FIRST guides students towards fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. There are over 8,000 registered teams in levels of elementary, middle, and high school in FIRST across the globe.

12. Briefly describe other matters of interest to the FIRST judges, if any
Team 3313 shows how important FIRST is to our team by waking up at 5 AM and traveling long distances to attend events. In an average season, Mechatronics travels over 3,000 miles to attend events in the Twin Cities, Fargo, and other areas of Minnesota. Our team enjoys presenting to teams through events like SPLASH Training to assist their improvement and growth. We only wish the best for FIRST and for all teams to transform into the shining stars they could be.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dean's List 2014 - Kacy McCormick

All this week, we will be releasing the awards we have submitted. 

Today's essay is our Dean's List submission about our PR/awards captain, Kacy McCormick. 

Kacy McCormick, a senior and PR/Awards Captain, is the sandpaper for our team.  She smoothes out all of our rough edges. Without her, FRC Team 3313 Mechatronics and the Alexandria, MN community would not be a finished product.
Using her warm personality and calm nature, Kacy has been a huge recruiting tool for FRC 3313. In the past two years, she is accountable for at least 9 team members pledging their support. This is no accident. She is perfect example of the versatile skill set that any FIRST team would be lucky to have.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma about STEM education and women. Kacy has worked hard to break down these preconceived notions on our team. When she joined the team, there were 4 females out of 18 students. This year the ratio is 8 females to 6 males.
Paying the bills is an important aspect to the upkeep of any team. Kacy has been directly responsible for over $5000 in funding for Team 3313 this year. On her own, she wrote a grant to the Tri-State Manufacturing Association for $2000. She also wrote a grant proposal to Youth As Resources through the United Way for $1000 and presented to the group to finalize the funding.
Organizing community events was a great skill that Kacy demonstrated. She organized the Pizza Ranch fundraiser that Team 3313 attended. The event had over 150 people attend and raised over $250. She is also immensely involved in planning the team’s annual community night.
In 2013, our team set the goal of completing Chairman’s. It was definitely a learning year. Without much support, Kacy led her fellow team members in finishing the Chairman’s Award for the first time. There were definitely challenges with trying this new endeavor, but, in typical Kacy fashion, the finished product was a polished masterpiece.
This season, Kacy prioritized and learned from past mistakes. The awards process started in the fall. One of her creative ideas was having a different team member be in charge of each executive summary prompt. She is not only able to finish her own tasks, but is also able to take those polished skills she has learned and teach others for the better.
The main suggestion from the Chairman’s judges last year was for Team 3313 to expand FIRST Robotics in our community. Kacy heard this advice and ran with it. She pushed our team to create an FTC team this season. She helped meet with our FRC sponsors to provide funding to start the FTC team. Kacy was also integral in registering the team and recruiting not only team members, but valuable mentors.
As soon as our team founded the FTC team, Kacy got right to work making branding standards. Working with two FTC members, they designed t-shirts, started a blog for the team, and even created YouTube and Twitter accounts. She worked closely, mentoring and pushing students to make the Engineering Notebook as professional as possible. Kacy took the FTC team challenge, and just like with all things, jumped right in.
Kacy truly revels in talking to others about FIRST. When holding any community event or fundraiser, a visitor is always greeted by her warm welcome. She has attended every one of our annual elementary school tours. Her attendance record for events is immaculate.
The fact that Kacy was not directly involved with the robot design does not exclude her from the wonders of STEM education. She relishes all of the science courses she has taken, especially chemistry. This year, she completed a mentorship program with different pharmacy areas. This experience has cemented her drive to become a pharmacist through North Dakota State University.
By training younger team members in the wonders of Google Drive and Google Docs, Kacy has expanded their collaboration abilities. Also, on a more personal note, this will allow her to mentor the team, even from a long distance away at college.
Many organizations have rough spots. FRC Team 3313 has been blessed to have Kacy smooth out our uneven spots so we can shine the past 3 years.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dean's List 2014 - Bryce Klang

All this week, we will be releasing the awards we have submitted. 

Today's essay is our Dean's List submission about our build captain, Bryce Klang. 

A tattoo--a sign of devotion or a permanent scar? To Bryce Klang it is a sign of his devotion and loving memories with FRC Team 3313 Mechatronics. Tattooed onto his chest, right over his heart, is the logo of FRC Team 3313. Bryce, senior and Build Team Captain at Jefferson High School in Alexandria, MN, holds a passionate relationship with FIRST Robotics.
Bryce has an affinity for working in efficient and simple ways. In the shop, he constantly asks, “How can we simplify this?” Bryce pushed Team 3313 to use pneumatics for first time in 2013. He researched and practiced over the offseason to ensure techniques would be sound for Build Season. He often tackles the most difficult build tasks.
He is always the first team member to arrive and the last to leave. During his sophomore year, he would often not leave until his dad would call the head coach requesting him to leave. Bryce was unable to attend a Week Zero event last season. The team missed him so much, they put a picture of him on a stick and walked around with it.
He enjoys every aspect of FIRST, but attending outreach events have left the deepest marks. Out of 15 sponsor meetings in the past 2 years, Bryce has attended 12. He helps make slide shows and presents information at the meetings. He was essential in planning out booths during our sponsor’s Tour of Manufacturing the past two years.
Thanks to all of the demonstrations and labor, Bryce was offered a full time job with Aagard, one of FRC 3313’s sponsors. He will assemble packaging machines with the company this summer and during the school year. This opportunity was unimaginable this early in his career without his enthusiasm about FIRST Robotics.
He’s accepted in the Mechatronics program at Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC). This is a 2 year program where students receive a broad understanding of how mechanical and electrical energy is produced, controlled, and utilized. Luckily, ATCC is only a short drive away from the high school--Bryce has promised to be a mentor.
Finding pictures of Bryce showing young students the robotic controls is an easy task. He has been a part of every elementary school tour. From Team 3313 community nights to the MN State Fair to assisted living homes, Bryce has shown innumerable people the bliss of FIRST Robotics.
Through his 3 years designing, building, and driving robots, Bryce has learned many valuable lessons, which he shares with others. He presented about pneumatics and drive trains at events such as Mini Minne-Regional, SPLASH Training, and Kickoffs. Bryce leads training sessions for new team members in the fall. He even helped train in our new engineering mentors on FIRST Robotics rules.
Bryce was an integral part of forming the first FTC team in the Alexandria, MN, FTC Team 7799 Autobotics. Mentoring the build team, Bryce would form a list of tasks to be completed, and even gives words of encouragement while showing students the correct procedure of using a tool. Using his 3 years of FRC driving experience, Bryce works with the FTC drive team planning strategy and offering advice. Middle schoolers under pressure can be a challenge, however, Bryce keeps a calm mind to ensure execution is correct.
Expanding the awareness of FIRST Robotics in our school is an activity that comes easy to Bryce. Whether it’s talking to his friends about the exploits of FRC 3313, tweeting pictures of robot progress, or talking to teachers about robot problems, FIRST is constantly on his mind.
His friendliness, zeal, and positive attitude earned him a spot on the Homecoming royalty this year at Jefferson High School. Typically, this award would go to the football or basketball star. Bryce, the captain of the FIRST Robotics team, was crowned Homecoming King.
Tattoos are a story about what is important to you and Bryce’s speaks volumes about his commitment to FIRST. Just like a tattoo, Bryce has left a permanent mark on his fellow team members, school, community, and sponsors.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Woodie Flowers 2014 - Mr. Bydlon

All this week, we will be releasing the awards we have submitted. 

Today's essay is our Woodie Flowers submission about our head coach and lead mentor, Jeremy Bydlon. 

“Who is your favorite superhero?” asked Jeremy Bydlon during a daily meeting. Students quickly responded with fictional characters from comic books, but then later took time to delve into the question. FRC 3313 Mechatronics’ superhero of choice isn’t the altered transformer on our shirts, or Thor, our robot: our superhero is Jeremy Bydlon, head coach of our team.

Since the start of his teaching career, Jeremy Bydlon blindly took reign of FRC 3313 for a running four years, along with founding FTC 7799 this year. He had absolutely no experience with tools--not even a drill. Within his first year of mentoring, students became equivalents by teaching and learning alongside him. He breathes support and trust through encouragement, allowing students to freely express ideas on internships and scholarships, regardless of its relation to robotics. Jeremy is only human; he knows every member has divergent talents. His incessant support has encouraged students to accept career opportunities, including job offers from sponsors.

A senior member, Lacey, describes Jeremy’s attitude of “singing and dancing around the robot room to be inspiration to the rest of us to be ourselves--not worrying about what others think.” Information is shared through networking and meetings, allowing the entire team to be involved in brainstorming sessions and major events. Even in chaotic build seasons, he insists that every student takes the initiative to aid other teams with troubleshooting or even writing. Giving students free rein to construct events had formed the success of the Bydlon Beard-Off; we gathered support from students and staff, permitting them to vote for a style of a beard Jeremy would shave his into.

As of 2014, he recruited three engineering mentors in the process of forming Alexandria’s first FTC team. Jeremy has always said, “Trying something for the first time is always the hardest.” Surviving his first year as coach of FTC 7799 paralleled his first with FRC 3313, and yet again students came to his rescue, now as student mentors. Students flourished as leaders and understood the troubles Jeremy has had as a mentor. FTC 7799 was successful and made it to State. As a result, our principal questioned Jeremy on his ideas for an engineering related class. After much discussion, it was decided he will be teaching FTC classes at the new high school. In comparison to the lack of FTC teams in Alexandria in previous years, there will be five teams this coming year.

Graduation approaches and some of us realize the current build season may be our last. During high school, we have all spent countless hours with our team and--most especially--our mentor. He has not only been our math teacher, but also our life coach. He has given more to us than what we ever could have asked. Like Thor, Jeremy is an everyday superhero to admire. Nearing our independence, we have gained a superhero that teaches, leads, and motivates us for the future.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bag It and Tag It

Tuesday was the very last day of build season! After the long and treacherous journey we are very happy to say that all of our hard work and long hours have paid off. We have a very admirable robot and are looking forward to Lake Superior and 10,000 Lakes Regionals. Before bagging though, we made a few improvements and worked on other projects.

We attached a reed switch for the gripper motors. It took a long time to program (never really done this kind of thing in autonomous before) but it works! This will prevent the hammer from firing if we miss a ball in autonomous. That will prevent us from breaking anything.

A bunch of parents brought in dinner for the team. Sloppy joes, chips, cookies, pop, bars, and lots of other goodies!! IT WAS SOOOOO GOOD!

We created scouting binders to make match scouting easier. Every year we evolve the scouting to be a little more efficient and a little more effective. We also showed off at another Basketball Halftime Show.

Also we have submitted our Woodie Flowers and Dean's List Awards now.

Still lots to do though! Lake Superior Regional is in 2 weeks!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New FRC game ideas!

Our team was filling out the survey for Blue Devil Press (a collaboration of 2512 and 2220 for the Duluth Regionals). We came across a question asking what we would think would be the ideal game for the 2015 games. We just bagged up our 2014 creation so we thought it would be a good time to think about next year.

Here are some of the ideas that we have come up with:
  • Crazy Eights
    • The track would be in the shape of a figure 8. Robots could pick up a giant 8 sided dice and drive around the figure 8 to achieve points. 
    • Think about Overdrive but with lots of crashing in the middle. Plus, the 8 sided shapes would be interesting to pick up and carry. 

  • Monkey Business
    • Robots climb a tree-like structure to collect a banana at the top of a tree. 
    • Think 2007 center contraption but tree shaped and with bananas on the top... Ok, it's totally different from 2007.
    • Drive teams would have to eat bananas for bonus points.
  • HexBug Roundup
    • Robots herd giant Hex-bugs into pens. 
    • The vibrating bugs would make it tough to herd them in the direction you wanted. 
    • Plus, GIANT HEX BUGS!!!!
  • Jenga
    • Robots spend the match pulling out blocks and stacking them on the top of the tower.
    • Precision would be key here.