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march 19, 2012
Ford Makes Space for FIRST
Robotics Team at Romeo Plant
by Gerald Scott
 U.S. Rep. Candice Miller took time out of her busy schedule the other day to meet with FIRST Robotics high school team No. 1718, the Fighting Pi, at a demonstration event in Romeo.
 The function was held at the Ford Romeo Engine Plant, which sponsors the team and provides it with robotics storage and assembly space, as allowed for by FIRST rules.
 It was Congresswoman Miller’s first visit with the team, which made a Powerpoint presentation to her in the Administration Building and she came away impressed.
 “That’s a better slide show than I typically see in Washington, D.C.,” she quipped.
 Team 1718 is now up to about 30 students and they have proven to be a self-motivated and successful bunch.
 “We were founded in 2006 over at the Macomb Academy of Arts & Sciences,” said team leader Richard Graham, of Richmond High School.
 “Since our rookie year we’ve grown to about 30 students, after having started with about 15,” he added.
 “Our mission is to inspire students to pursue their interest in science and technology.”
 FIRST Robotics is a promoter of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curricula for high schoolers.
 Also, participating in the formal presentation to the Congresswoman were students Melissa Mikolowski (Armada HS) and Nicholar FitzSimmons (Richmond HS).
 “And also business,” Graham said. “We’ve been doing that since 2006. We’ve met with remarkable success the past two years – in 2010 we made it to the World Championship for the first time since starting in our rookie year.
 “We also won the Chairman’s Award, which is the most prestigious award you can get. It recognizes the team that is a ‘role model’ for the other teams. We also made it to the World Championships again and we hope to duplicate it for this year.”
 The students study the theories and achievements of Dean Kamen, the famous inventor, scientist and founder of FIRST Robotics.
 Curiously, Kamen is almost as successful an inventor in the modern era as Thomas Edison was in his era, but he’s hardly a household name.
 Kamen, for example, is working with the Dept. of Defense on developing artificial, working hands for soldiers who have lost theirs from wartime explosions.
 Luckily, though, more and more high school students, including those that participate in FIRST Robotics nationwide, are becoming familiar with Kamen and his achievements.
 Without Kamen, there wouldn’t be all of these FIRST Robotics regional and national competitions to charm and engage local high school teams like the Fighting Pi.
 “There’s a popular phrase going around that says ‘Innovation Stagnation.’ It’s the goal of FIRST to end that,” student Graham pointed out.
 Replied Miller, “That’s true, that’s very true – we’re counting on all  of you to do that because my generation hasn’t done such a good job, you guys have to take it over, I’m telling you.”
 Miller went on to witness a demonstration of the Team 1718 robot, one that was programmed to scoop up basketballs and shoot them at a standard basketball hoop. That’s all more difficult than it sounds -- to program a robot to score a basket, but the Fighting Pi did just that.
 The FIRST Robotics championships will be held next month in St. Louis and the local team, based at Ford Romeo, has to go through district and regional play, but they appear to stand a good chance of returning to the big show as far as high school robotics is concerned.
 Team 1718 has two faculty advisors from the Armada Schools including Craig Roys and Richard Wahl. The latter is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot who flew F-4s, F-15s and was a T-38 jet training instructor. Together they have launched local student interest in STEM.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller checks out the movement of the FIRST Robotics device assembled by the “Fighting Pi,” the high school robotics team sponsored by the Ford Romeo Engine Plant.
Note that the robot built by the FIRST Robotics team sponsored by the Ford Romeo Engine Plant, scored a basket on this very shot from the field as it was directed by student programming.
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