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Nevis robotics team kicks off season

The largest robotics team in Nevis School's 11-year history, 80 percent of this year's 43-member team is made up of young women. Photos by Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

The Nevis Tech-No-Tigers hosted the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) kickoff Saturday.

This year's challenge is "Deep Space," and the 18 teams attending were excited to watch the video.

"Everyone in the world finds out the challenge at the same time through the broadcast video," team mentor Andrew Dahlby said. "There are 3,800 teams worldwide."

FIRST stands For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, the goal of the nonprofit is to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

This is the largest team in Nevis' 11-year history with 43 students in grades 8-12 participating compared to year one with 11 students and two mentors.

"We laugh when we travel — we take 20 percent of the high school with us," Dahlby said.

It is also the team with the highest percentage of young women. "The team is 80 percent female," mentor Olaf Netteberg said.

The kickoff is also where teams receive their large, black, plastic box from FedEx called "kits of parts" and learn more about how to get a competitive edge as they prepare for regionals. Rookie teams received items to build a basic, drivable robot. Veteran teams received parts helpful to this year's game. Every team received one of each of the game pieces, including the cargo and a hatch cover.

In years past, a physical game field was located at the school. This year, students logged onto a website where they could take a virtual tour of the field on their phones or laptops.

"This was the first year for the virtual field," Netteberg explained. "In the past we, as a one of 143 official kickoff sites, were sent CAD drawings of the wooden mock-ups for the field over Christmas break. The virtual field is a new thing this year and we really haven't had time to see what all it can offer."

Netteberg explained that the Deep Space video is a very basic overview of the premise of the game. "The official game manual, which is about 150 pages long, gives every detail of the game rules, robot parameters, scoring and much more," he said.

Presenters at Saturday's workshops included three Nevis juniors. Madeline Mitchell presented "Drive Team Basics" and Nicole Bayman and Emily David co-presented "How to Create an Annual Report."

Mitchell said her presentation focused on the criteria needed to achieve a position on the drive team.

"It also gave tips on how to perform well in each position," she said. "I have been on the drive team for the past two seasons. I am currently going into my fourth season on the team, and will have one more year after this. I think the kickoff went extremely well. I think the game has a lot of different components that will probably throw us some curveballs during this build season. Having to manipulate two game pieces will be a bit of challenge, but will be a good experience for our team."

Other sessions Saturday included design strategy, building robots, game manual reading, the design process, drive team basics, strategy and scouting and Java programming.

The team's mentors this year are Olaf Netteberg, Kay Netteberg, Andrew Dahlby, Dustin Wroolie, Mark Hamborg, Mike Tauber, Ed Comers and Tom Burdue. Rusty Uscola, who is the team's founding mentor, is now retired and volunteering with the team.

Olaf Netteberg said Nevis School is the team's primary supporter, just as with any other varsity activity.

"3M is a major financial contributor and has been for 10 years, and we have other donors that wish to remain anonymous," Olaf Netteberg said. "Very often we have donations from community members and local businesses as well."

Robotics influenced alumni career choices

Three alumni of the Nevis robotics team who were on their college breaks attended the kickoff. All are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Wyatt Tauber is a sophomore at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York where he is majoring in computing security.

"One of the biggest ways FRC influenced my career choice was the program's emphasis on cooperation and outreach," he said. "Through holding school STEM events, involving the community in our program and mentoring other teams, I saw that many people in our area struggle with math and science and see careers in these fields as unreachable because of the limited resources a rural area provides for experience or resources in these fields. This is represented in our graduating classes at Nevis, where only a few students from each class go into STEM careers, and in our school and community where many people have trouble using technology to make their lives easier or comprehending how to keep their information (and money) out of the way of scammers, data breaches, security incidents or other unfortunate events. FRC helped me realize that I wanted to make information technology more secure and accessible for everyone, which is now one of my primary life goals and represented in just about everything I do, including my choice of major and career."

Tauber said FRC helped him prepare for college by allowing him to learn programming concepts early.

"As the team's lead of programming for three years, I was able to learn a lot of the foundational logic of computer science and explore different ways to apply it," he said. "I might not have had this opportunity otherwise, as there were no computer science classes offered in Nevis when I attended, and the time commitment for other extracurricular activities might have prohibited me from exploring computer science on my own, so building it into an extracurricular I was already interested in and involved with was perfect. I am so glad I had this experience because a lot of the tools I used in FRC (Java and Git, for instance) I now use quite often in classes and clubs at RIT, and I probably wouldn't have been as successful in the computer science courses I took in my first year without it."

Tauber's achievements so far include Computing Technology Industry Association certification, being the only student in Minnesota to receive the National Federation of Independent Businesses Young Entrepreneur Award for founding Tauber IT Solutions, an honors project on Rogue Network Devices where he identified common security vulnerabilities and created rogue devices to effectively detect and isolate them.

Matt McNamara attends Central Lakes College in Staples.

"I was on the Nevis Robotics team for three years and spent one year on a different team in the Cities," he said. "Both places, I was in the pit fixing the robot and on the build team designing and building the robot. I would say that robotics did influence my career path. It pushed me to do better and really appreciate the work I put into it after those six weeks of designing and building. That led me to wanting a career in robotic technology, which put me at Central Lakes College in Staples for Robotic Automated Systems Technology. I'm in my first year and the degree I'm going for is an associates, so only two years then I will be out working in the field."

John Merila of Nevis is a freshman at the University of North Dakota.

"Being involved in FIRST Robotics helped me see how much of an interest I had in working with robots and other technologies," he said. "This interest led me to pursue a double major in mechanical and electrical engineering at the University of North Dakota to help me better understand the workings of robots and allow me to pursue a career working with developing new robotic technologies to complete various tasks."

Upcoming robotics events

The robotics team will have six weeks to study the game, create game strategy, design, prototype, build, test and prepare for competition.

On Feb. 16, Nevis Tech-No-Tigers will host "Week Zero," a 25-team scrimmage where teams bring their robots for a day of "Deep Space" mock competition before the "bag-and-tag" deadline when all robots are put into giant plastic bags and sealed with a coded zip tie.

"We expect to have 800 people here," Dahlby said. The bagged robots will be taken to be inspected before entering regional competitions where the winning alliances will advance to the World Championship in April.

Nevis will be completing in two regionals. The first will be the Lake Superior in Duluth March 6-9 and the second the Medtronic Regional held at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota campus in the Twin Cities March 27-30.