Rack 'N Roll at FIRST

Apr 20, 2007

Kettering University was well represented at the 16th international championships of FIRST Robotics in Atlanta, April 12-14. This year's game, Rack 'N Roll, pitted 344 high school robotics teams against each other and some very colorful inner tubes.

Take one part Mardi Gras, one part Science Olympics, and a healthy dose of corporate recruiting, then generously mix in noise, spirit and a significant showing of tomorrow's engineering and technology talent. That's the high jinx that Kettering University landed in from April 12-14 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome and World Congress Building. The 16th annual international robotics championship attracted a growing entourage from Kettering, including current students and parents, incoming freshmen and parents, corporate partners and a long list of alumni, who are dedicated to the FIRST ideal.

It began, this year, with popular Professor Henry "Doc K" Kowalski pulling in youthful crowds to Kettering's scholarship table. "Hi, where are you from? Let me tell you about Kettering University," the venerable Mechanical Engineer professor said over and over again. High school students gathered in clusters around the blue and gold table, picking up "Perfect Fit" marketing materials and asking Doc K question after question. "Oh man, we're gonna run out of stuff," Doc K said, chuckling as he handed out more of Kettering's new brochures. "I'm pretty good at this, huh?"

Among the early visitors coming to the table to greet Doc K was Kelly Flynn-Brown '86, who brought her son, Andrew, 14, with her. Andrew had accompanied the Wo Bots, Team 141 from West Michigan, to the international games in Atlanta. Kelly and her husband, Dean Brown '84, live in Holland, Mich.

By the time Doc K left for his other job at FIRST, he had collected 50 inquiry cards from prospective students. Then away he went to advise the high school robotics team that Kettering sponsors, Team 1506, Metal Muscle.

One of Kettering's most popular items on Scholar Row this year was the black "Perfect Fit" t-shirts featuring clever sayings like: "Left over parts are proof you made it better." Debbie Rumsey, assistant director of admissions, presented one to FIRST Founder Dean Kamen '01 during his annual tour of Scholarship Row. Among other Kettering ties to FIRST royalty - Steve Wozniak '05 served as a judge for FIRST. Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple Computers, received an honorary doctor of Engineering degree from Kettering in December 2005. Doc K recently presented him with a black "Perfect Fit" t-shirt for his collection, too.

FIRST robotics has gotten h-u-g-e since its founding 16 years ago. This year's international games included three simultaneous competitions:

FIRST Robotics Competition Championship

  • 344 teams
  • 8,600 high school students from Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, and the United States
  • Game: Rack 'N Roll
  • Robots are built in six weeks from a common kit of parts provided by FIRST and weigh up to 120 pounds, excluding battery.
  • Overview: FIRST robotics now has 1,305 teams worldwide involving 32,625 students, 18,270 mentors and almost 6,000 volunteers, available in all 50 states, four provinces, and seven countries. There are 2,000 sponsors and 37 regional contests.

FIRST Vex Challenge World Championship

  • 100 teams
  • 1,000 high school students from Canada, China, Mexico, Singapore and the United States
  • Game: Hangin A Round
  • Robots are built using the Vex Robotics Design System

FIRST LEGO League World Festival

  • 94 teams
  • 940 middle school students from 22 countries including Australia, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Haiti, India, Jordan, Peru, U.K. and U.S.
  • Challenge: Nano Quest
  • Robots are built using LEGO MINDSTORMS technologies

FIRST now has $8 million in scholarships available. Kettering awarded 10 $20,000 scholarships ($5,000 for four years each) to the following 2007 FIRST Scholarship winners:

Ben Bargman, Team 1213, Beverly Hills, Mich.
Christopher Denis, Team 1506, Clarkston, Mich.
Andrew Wayne Hall, Team 155, Berlin, Conn.
Cory Hayes, Team 1718, Goodells, Mich.
Jeremy Robert Hilliard, Team 503, Novi, Mich.
Victoria Hills, Team 322, Flint, Mich.
Jonathan Mallard MacDougall, Team 67, Highland, Mich.
Andrew Joseph Schreiber, Team 27, Clarkston, Mich.
Ashley Kristina Sims, Team 1188, Southfield, Mich.
Wesley Urbanik, Team 67, White Lake, Mich.


A few years ago, FIRST volunteer Sue Weiss, a development officer in Kettering's University Advancement office, sent a mailing to alumni encouraging them to serve as a mentor or corporate sponsor for the FIRST teams in their area. Dan Stauft '02 is living proof that outreach effort worked. He approached the Scholarship table to say he is grateful that he received the letter because his volunteer work has added a spirit and richness to his life. Stauft is a graduate of Kettering's GM TEP program. He works at GM's Moraine assembly plant in the Dayton, Ohio, area.



Kettering owes a debt of thanks to FIRST mentor Leigh Kostis of Erie, Penn. Several years ago, she walked high school student Craig Buck '06 over to the Kettering Scholarship table at nationals and told him to pick up information on the co-op program. Craig did, enrolled, graduated and is now back with her Team #63 as a mentor -- a second generation of Kettering connections to Team 63. Craig is a fulltime employee for General Electric in Erie, Penn. He and his wife, RaeAnne Buck, met through FIRST. This year, Leigh walked straight A-student Jen Dexter, a sophomore at McDowell High School in Erie, over to the Kettering table ...



Kettering's next set of incoming freshmen said hello in record numbers this year. Rachel Wood bounded up to the table in Scholarship Row to express her enthusiasm about being an incoming B-Section freshman. The senior at Centerline High School in Warren, Mich., can't wait! She is a graduate of Kettering's LITE program and already has a freshmen co-op at GM Powertrain headquarters in Pontiac all lined up. She will major in Electrical Engineering and does EE works for Team 226, Tec Crew from the Troy School District. Another incoming freshman is Dan Stovall of Rochester. He'll join A-Section this summer, ready to discover Mechanical Engineering or Chemistry as a major. He is a member of Team 1506, Metal Muscle, and is a senior at Stoney Creek High School. Michelle Scott is an incoming freshman from Warren, Ohio, who attended Prep for Success in February. She is a senior at Champion High School and will study Computer Engineering. She's a member of Team 2010, the Lightning Bots. And Ryan Quellet offered greetings. He's from the BOB Team (Built on Brains), Team 85. He'll move to Flint from his home in Zeeland, Mich., where he is a senior at Zeeland West High School. Ryan will study Mechanical Engineering. And that's just some of them ...



Part of the fun of FIRST is to enjoy the youthful humor and colorful costumes of today's teens. Students carry that spirit into the naming of their teams, too. Some clever examples at nationals this year were the Cheesy Poofs and the Desperate Penguins.



Among the Kettering staff members working FIRST this year were Debbie Rumsey of Admissions and Stephanie Jones of Kettering's Office of Multicultural Initiatives. Said Debbie, "this is always exciting. There are so many things going on, I like watching the kids' creativity and it's not just the kids. A mentor came by yesterday wearing a porpoise hat. If you haven't ever tried a FIRST event, you need to!" Added Stephanie, "It's interesting to see people from all over the world with a common interest - from elementary students to mentors. There's a lot of energy here."



"I hear Kettering grads don't amount too much," boomed a grinning Tim Searles, a 2005 graduate who was fully engaged in the spirit of FIRST. Searles, of Muskegon, Mich., is a software engineer for Medallion Instrumentation Systems in West Michigan, also his co-op employer. He brought Doug Francescori of Clarkston to Scholarship Row to say hello. Doug's son, Stefan, is a member of Kettering's Metal Muscle team.



Kettering will help the FIRST region gear up for the 2008 contest year on Saturday, Sept. 22, when it hosts the 8th annual Kettering Kickoff in the Recreation Center. The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. event is a head-to-head competition between large radio-controlled robots built by teams of high school students and sponsoring engineers. The Kettering Kickoff serves as an organizing event to "kick off" the start of the 2008 competition season but still using the game, rules and robots of the 2007 FIRST national competition (Rack 'N Roll). Teams are being sought for the September competition at Kettering. Team registration is $350 ($300 if registered by June 30). To register, contact Sally Hicks. Click on this linkto see coverage of the fun at the 2006 Kettering Kickoff.

Visit the FIRST website for more information - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology

Written by Pat Mroczek