By Sebastian Moronta, Staff Writer
UMass Dartmouth is home to many projects and programs that promote engagement in STEM fields, one of the newest being the SouthCoast Corsairs, a high school robotics team made up of students from all over the South Coast.
The group began when Candie Desjardins from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island reached out to UMass’ own Dr. Alex Fowler about the prospect of bringing a robotics team to the school. Desjardins spends a lot of time representing the Navy in the community while promoting engagement in STEM fields and coordinating projects for students from elementary school through high school, particularly in robotics.
Desjardins has been working with various schools to set up a FIRST robotics team in the region for years, and she and Dr. Fowler arranged to have the team work primarily at UMass. The team is made up of nearly 30 students from 6 local high schools and 2 homeschooling centers. The Torch spoke with Andrew Sullivan, one of two team captains, about the national competition the group competes in every year.
“Each year, in January, we learn what the challenges are in that year’s game. From there, we have 6 weeks to build an industrial sized robot to complete as many of those tasks as we deem necessary. After the 6 weeks, we put our robot in a giant bag and zip-tie it shut until our first competition.”
The team competes in district and regional qualifying rounds before they are eligible to attend the FIRST World Championship, and the team has qualified both years they’ve entered since the group began in 2015.
The challenges the team are given are tasks to be completed by their robots. In past years, robots have been tasked with moving gears and other parts, shooting wiffle-balls into goals, and climbing a rope, which can prove difficult as the robots tend to weigh more than a hundred pounds.
“At the competitions, we are expected to be gracious professionals,” Sullivan explained. The high school teams are not the only competitors at FIRST events, as FIRST hosts other competitions, like the FIRST Tech challenge for grades 7-12, and the LEGO League and LEGO League Junior, for middle and elementary school students, respectively.
UMass Dartmouth will be hosting a LEGO League quaifier on December 9, where 24 teams will assemble on campus to make LEGO creations of their own. The event will be staffed and sponsored by members of the SouthCoast Corsairs team, as well as mentors from NAVSEA and UMass Dartmouth. Desjardins helped coordinate the event, and spoke about the importance of having students mentoring the young ones.
“[The young students] can relate better to folks their own age” Desjardins said. “It’s easier for a kid to ask a high school student about robotics than it is for that same kid to ask a retired professor. The way this succeeds is through partnership.”
As such, the SouthCoast Corsairs are partnering with teams and groups all over the region to generate more interest in STEM fields. The team is currently working with the UMass campus radio station, WUMD.rocks, to develop and produce a STEM oriented show called “Tech Talk” coming soon.
Sullivan spoke more about the work the team does in the area. “We have gone around to different middle schools to let them know about FIRST and tell them of various STEAM opportunities in their areas. Our team members also participate in various mentoring, STEM, and community service-based programs at their schools to better our communities. Right now, our big team outreach event is mentoring a FIRST Lego League team at Our Sisters’ School in New Bedford.”
High school students interested in joining the SouthCoast Corsairs should reach out to them trough email to fill out an application, and any UMass students in FIRST experience who are interested in mentoring the group are encouraged to reach out as well.