Shelton High robotics team hones skills for ‘real world’

During the last school year, the Shelton High School robotics team competed in tournaments as far away as Missouri and New Hampshire, hosted a competition that attracted 28 teams, mentored other robotics teams, and participated in many community events.

The team had 27 student members aided by more than 1,000 volunteer hours from two teachers, 10 engineers, and several parents and alumni.

John Niski, team adviser, recently thanked the Board of Education (BOE) and school system administration “for the unwavering support we’ve gotten from this board.”

The team presented its Founder’s Award to the BOE and central office for their support during a BOE meeting.

Niski noted that for 15 years, even in years when major cuts had to be made to school budget requests, “not once has anyone said, ‘Let’s cut the robotics team.’”

Commitment and achievement

Adult volunteers told BOE members that robotics team members demonstrate a high of enthusiasm through their commitment and achievement.

“It’s great to see what kids can do when you give them a little knowledge and encouragement,” said one adult who mentors the team.

Students said being on the team teaches them about the “real world” of science, engineering and computers. Many team members hope to become engineers and computer programmers.

The STEM connection

School Supt. Freeman Burr said the robotics teams is another way to allow youngsters to explore unique careers, and the team’s activities tie in well with the district’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative.

Burr also said it’s nice to see many girls involved with STEM activities, including robotics. “It’s no longer, like the days when I went to school, gender specific,” he said.

Mark Holden, BOE chairman, urged people to attend a robotics tournament if they have the chance. “My hats off to the team,” Holden said. “It’s a tremendous program.”

Finished near the top in competitions

During the 2012-13 school year, the SHS team was a semifinalist in the New Hampshire competition and finalist in two Connecticut tournaments. It received the Chairman’s Award at a regional competition.

At the national event in St. Louis, SHS competed with teams from Israel, Brazil, Mexico and Canada as well as the United States.

SHS team members designed, built, programmed and tested a robot in six weeks.

They compete in electrical, metal and wood fabrication; programming; graphics and 3D animation; website design and webcasting; and marketing and fund raising.

Members served as mentors for lower-grade schools in Shelton as well as Harding High School in Bridgeport. “We want to spread out the excitement of engineering,” Niski said.

The robotics team is officially known as the Gaelhawks, combining the SHS mascot with the name of a Sikorsky helicopter (Black Hawk), one of its main sponsors.