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ARDEC Backs Winning Team at Mount Olive STEM Competition

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Forty-two student teams converged on Mount Olive over the weekend of March 10
to par­ticipate in the Mt. Olive FIRST robotics competition. Scientists and engineers
from Picatin­ny Arsenal sponsored and mentored 24 of those teams. Pictured above
on the left is team 3142 from Newton, one of the first teams sponsored by Picatinny
personnel. Wearing the red shirt is Shah Dabiri, manager of the STEM program at
Picatinny. In the center, kneeling and wearing a sports coat, is Anthony Sebasto,
Executive Director of the Enterprise & Systems Integration Center at Picatinny.

The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center mentored two of the three teams that won the annual For Inspiration of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competition at Mount Olive High School.

Twenty-four Picatinny-sponsored robot­ics teams competed, and each was mentored by a Picatinny scientist and engineer.

A total of forty teams, representing all of New Jersey, put their robotic skills to the test in this two-day competition.

“Skill, intelligence and grit of the students was put on display as the teams battled the weekend of March 10-11,” said Shah Dabiri, Picatinny's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) director.

Several of these teams advanced into the quarter finals, semifinals, and then the final competition of the weekend's district event. The top eight teams made the quarter finals. Each of these eight teams selected two other teams to team up with them in the quarter finals. Eight Picatinny teams participated in this round. Two of the Picatinny teams advanced from the quarter finals to the semi­final round, and then went on to win the competition.

Two Picatinny-sponsored teams advanced to the semifinals: “Raider Robots” (team 25) mentored by Delfin Joe Qyigano and “T.E.S.T Team” (team 303) mentored by Michael Scott.

“This year was particularly challenging for the team due to several factors,” explained Scott. “The game requires the robot to manipulate cubes and raise them to heights over 6 feet, and also the robot has to climb on a small bar at end game. These challenges made the prototyping phase very difficult.”

Scott said he spends about 20 hours a week mentoring his team from January through the end of the competition season, which is mid-April. While he originally began men­toring his son's team, Scott continued as a mentor after his son graduated in 2014.


Ardec Backs Win_2
Anthony Sebasto looks at a display produced by the Newton team.


“The other issue for the team was a large turnover of student leadership,” Scott said. “The new leadership team was not prepared to run the team when build season started, but they learned quickly, pulled together, and built a successful robot. I'm very proud of the team.”

“Of the teams that made it to the top eight, all were Picatinny-sponsored,” said Dabiri. “It's truly amazing to see what young high school students can build in six weeks.”

Jim Giacchi is a Picatinny mechanical engineer who has been mentoring FIRST robotics teams since 2004. He was inspired to become a team mentor because his high school team lost their corporate sponsorship and his last two years were without engi­neering support.

Giacchi said that the key skills the students learn are teamwork and problem solving.

“They're really learning problem solving and when you boil it down, an engineer is just a
problem solver. They're given a task they need to accomplish and they're figuring out how to
do it,” Giacchi explained.

“And especially how to problem solve as a team. Because you have multiple students all doing different pieces of it and they're coordinating together to make a single product at the end.”

Though Giacchi has put in 60 hours a week with teams in the past, he currently donates three to four hours a week. His team, team 41, the RoboWarriors, made it to the first round of elimination over the weekend and also won an award for their unique control station.

“(The volunteer hours) depends on what the team needs and how many mentors you have. This team has a very strong group of teachers that handle the majority of the work and I just provide the engineering support.”

But Giacchi thinks the time is well spent.

“It is a commitment, but you make a very large impact with a little amount of time. There's lots of things the kids figure out on their own, but there's very small, subtle things that you spend a little time explaining and now it makes what they're doing a lot easier when they were struggling before. Little bumps in the road that you can smooth out.”


Original article: Frank Misurelli and Audra Calloway
The Picatinny Voice