3 Surprising Things about WSP’s FIRST® Robotics Tournament
by Christine McQuade Hsu | Advancement Director
WSP hosted a FIRST® Tech Robotics Qualifying Tournament on the Mountain View campus earlier this month. The STEM group that convenes the event is named First—but the event was a first in other ways, too: until now, WSP had never hosted a public tournament before. (Shout out to WSP senior and Walbots captain Lysander Schmidt and faculty team-sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson for spearheading!)
By 8:15 AM on a chilly Saturday morning, competitors from 16 local middle schools had arrived. As the hosting robotics team, WSP’s own Walbots joined nearly 80 other WSP volunteers to serve as judges, referees, scorekeepers, videographers, commentators, and runners, to name just a few of the many volunteer roles. High school senior Zoe Wheatonfox helped kick off the competition with a gorgeous rendition of the national anthem.
Here are three things I, and many other participants, didn’t expect to see at a robotics tournament:
1. Chickens on the loose
We’re guessing it was the first time many of the 320 participants had seen a chicken at a robotics tournament. “Pepper” and “Turbo” were roaming the garden as students wearing safety goggles would stop on their way to and from the competition hall (aka the Eurythmy room) to exclaim, “Is that a chicken?!”
Yes. At WSP, chickens roam alongside Silicon Valley’s next generation of engineers. No big deal.
Students took breaks not only to sit in the garden and hold the chickens but also jump on tree stumps, play tetherball or ping pong, and enjoy the rope swings hanging from a nearby tree.
“It was wonderful to see the students from the other teams getting so much genuine joy from our campus,” said WSP parent (and lead scorekeeper) Brent Ingler. “Witnessing their excitement over things that we, as a school, may otherwise take for granted was heartwarming.”
2. “A well-oiled robot”
That’s how a visiting robotics team mentor who’s attended these tournaments for years described this event. Or as a student participant said, “The whole event had a fun, chill, vibe and was so much fun.”
Thank the incredible flow within the WSP team for that.
“Every problem that came up, we actually resolved very efficiently, and that’s what made it overall a successful event,” said Lysander. “In our community, there are a lot of people with ingenuity and initiative. We had so many volunteers who could do whatever was needed.”
To allow spectators to cheer on their teams, despite COVID restrictions on numbers of attendees, all 9 hours of the event were live-streamed by a crew of WSP students led by Pierre Laurent, WSP’s School Administrator. (Catch a few highlights of their footage here.)
3. Real-time innovation
Competitors spent the day troubleshooting, tweaking, and adjusting their robots. The team “pits” looked like chaotic workshops, with students darting in and out.
WSP parent and event judge Neil Overmon, who designs systems for Level 4 self-driving trucks, was inspired. “I was genuinely impressed with the student competitors,” he said. “They were working with concepts that I don’t always see even at the professional level. I was inspired to brush up on a few topics when I went home that night!”
Watching the teams work was also a master class in problem solving and collaboration.
“What you think is going to happen and what actually happens a lot of times is not the same,” said WSP 11th grader and Walbots team member Stephen Lee. “That’s applicable not just in a robotics club but also in real life.”
He also saw the value of standing by your vision. “If you want to present ideas to people who don’t think it’s going to work, you just do it.”
Find out more about the day WSP hosted its first Robotics tournament.
Read more about what happened that day.
Watch a breakdown of how a robotics tournament works by WSP’s Walbots team members and Faculty sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson.
Interested in joining or supporting the Walbots Robotics Club at WSP?
“The club is open to anyone who is interested,” says Lysander. “At its core, it’s just a group of people doing some things. If you want to animate something, that’s robotics. If you want to work on finances, you can do that in robotics. If you want to make a website, draw some art, or even design clothing, it’s all part of what we do.
It’s also truly student-driven. As WSP parent and longtime Walbots supporter Christopher Schmidt explains, “we’re quite different from a lot of FIRST Tech Challenge schools. We draw the line. Neither Dr. Fredrickson nor I ever tell the students what the decisions are going to be in building the robot. Also, at our school, we have the right balance of time commitment. At our school, the people in the robotics club are also the people who are doing theater and track. It doesn’t need to take over your whole life. And that makes it even more fun.”
The club is always looking for sponsorship and support. Reach out to high school faculty sponsor Dr. Fredrickson or Team Captain Lysander Schmidt for more information.