by Laura Richardson, Mentor
The 2021 season is well on its way, having finished week 3 of Build. We have 1 ½ robots, and we are well on our way to competition season. Luckily, we have experienced build team members so we are handling the COVID-build world fine. The thing is that we pride ourselves on being #MorethanRobots. The brand side of the team is well represented and set for the future. The robot side is progressing nicely, and will work out by competition. The issue is the outreach side. Why? Because we have always put our emphasis on quality instead of quantity.
CSP has long focused on making a real difference in our team members lives and in that of those we support. Other teams will focus on drastic numbers – thousands or millions of people “reached.” We would rather make a real difference in 100 people’s lives than just make 1000 aware of our existence or that of FIRST. It is because eof that our COVID world has drastically affected our programs. Match that with the change made in 2019 to only count three years of impact for Chairman and the loss of half of the 2020 season with a wide-range shut down for a full year, and we have less impact with our existing programs. Luckily, we realized early on in the summer that the impact to mental health and to the social justice programs were opportunities that needed addressing. Unfortunately, they don’t fit into the “robotics int eh classroom” structure we follow, but it identified new and exciting programs that we are addressing. But is that going to be different and impactful enough to provide “proof” for the 2021 Chairman season? We just aren’t sure.
In fact, we talked just yesterday about the possibility of taking a year off from Chairman because our new programs have few results so far, and we have lower results with the last two years on our existing programs because they require face-to-face programs. Heck, the local FLL/FTC programs were cut in half or more this year due to the COVID shut downs. Although we are much more involved in local teams than previous, there are fewer teams with which to connect. And, worst of all, #TechItOut was cancelled the day before it happened and will not happen this year because of the changes – and since half of our rookies were introduced to FRC and to CSP with Tech It Out, this is a huge loss for us.
We know our programs are good and are strong and are impactful. That’s the point of “quality.” We know we will continue past COVID because they are set up to be sustainable, and we will continue to expand. But, do we want to put in the effort to apply this year? Who knows? We don’t believe in doing anything unless it’s done with high quality. Stay tuned to see if we decide to apply. Maybe we will; maybe we won’t.
by Jay B, 2nd Year, Sophomore
A year ago, I sat alongside my peers at CSP’s HQ swimming in excitement as we prepared for the FRC 2020 season kickoff. A year later, I have participated in my first virtual FRC kickoff. In that time between the two kickoffs, so much has happened and it’s interesting to reflect on my rookie season.
Although I had years of previous experience in both FLL and FTC, I was very afraid going into my rookie season. Before I became a member on the team, it seemed as though it would be impossible for me to find my place on the team. These same feelings I carried with me when I became a CSP rookie. At first, I had hoped to become a programmer and a media team member (here’s a hint: one of those, I wouldn’t be for long). Through much trial and error, I found something that I truly loved, media.
One thing that I learned through my rookie season and becoming a part of the media team was how much I truly love to create. Creating has always been a love of mine, but making things for CSP has pushed that love even farther. Being on the media team taught me so much I didn’t know before, like how to create things digitally. As a rookie, I felt extremely proud to see my first pit signs be put onto the pit. That’s when it really felt as though I found my place on the team. When the pandemic hit, it was unfortunate to see my first season be cut off so short, to be here one minute and gone the next. I had many regrets about things I didn’t get to do last season.
As the 2021 season is just now gearing up for FRC, I still realize that I have a lot to learn. And I think that’s the beauty of FRC, even as a veteran student, there’s so much to learn, no one’s learning journey is ever over. And I believe that rookies should not be afraid of what’s to come of their season because there’s always a place for everyone on the team.
By 3rd Year Junior, Maggie F
Both FIRST and robotics as a whole are incredibly challenging subjects that require intense attention to detail and even larger amounts of skill. More importantly, however, robotics teaches students what it takes to be an engineer. These lessons discuss various topics and, ultimately, what someone takes away depends on who they are. However, there is one lesson that holds true for every aspiring engineer. Success, especially in the beginning, is not the point.
The Columbus Space Program has an extremely efficient and detailed manufacturing process. This process is designed with extreme detail to ensure that the robot is efficiently built with as few design errors as possible. And yet, without fail, there will be significant failures initially, and these failures will always lead to some design change. Moreover, even when the original design does work, there will be some instances during competition when a flaw or problem arises. This is, as described by a number of CSP students, merely the nature of robots. It is also the deep-running, barrier-breaking lesson that every aspiring engineer will learn at some point in their life. Engineering requires breaking barriers and experimenting with new ideas. Therefore, failure and setbacks are, more often than not, the inevitable outcomes. These failures can be disheartening and can lead to one questioning their abilities. But, without fail, the engineers who experience these failures and, despite their doubts, continue to search for solutions become the best engineers.
Engineering is the ultimate test of human thought and imagination. For these ideals to fail and succumb to the merciless laws of nature is merely inevitable. As a result, engineering is predicated on failing and learning from those failures. At both the high school and the professional level, failing is the only true sign of being an engineer. Failures push engineers to think creatively and, as a result, develop exceptional solutions to complex problems. This can be seen every day at CSP’s HQ and competitions. Facing and overcoming failure makes an engineer and, consequently, it is what will make CSP students engineers.
by Jay B, Sophomore 2nd Year
As many you already know, the past year as well as the beginning of the new year have been far from what any of us would deem normal. March 2020 was a month of doomsdays as cities all over the United States began to completely shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic; chaos, uncertainty, and fear ran throughout the country. In the midst of the madness was robotics. In March, FRC 4188 had been winding down from victory in Gainesville and now was in preparation for our Columbus qualifier, which was to be hosted by us. Unfortunately, the night before what was to be another victorious competition, our season was brought to a complete halt when the Columbus qualifier along with the rest of the 2020 FRC season was cancelled.
The team, like everyone else in America, had settled into their homes for quarantine. For the longest, it seemed as though quarantine would last a lifetime, and robotics was far gone. However, hope struck when we were granted permission by the school board superintendent to meet for robotics under COVID-19 restrictions. We were excited to meet after many months spent apart. Meetups began and things were back to “normal”, well except for one thing. Me, I had become a virtual robotics student.
Due to the virus, I decided that it would be best for myself to stay home. However, I did not want this to hinder my robotics life, so I decided to do my robotics work virtually. Most of my media work for the robotics team is already on the computer, so it was not a drastic change for me. However, what has been the hardest is balancing school, robotics and my mental health. I’ve come up with ways in order to keep the balance and try to stay on top of everything that life has thrown at me. In order to keep up with the rest of the team, I use resources such as Zoom and Slack. In order to tackle both school and robotics, I allocate specific days to spend my afternoons doing robotics or schoolwork. Then, in order to unwind, I go skateboarding. These strategies have helped a lot with keeping me on top of things. Throughout the time of this new normal, I genuinely feel like giving up everything, but then I remember my friends, family and wonderful team that I have behind me supporting me in all I do. And that makes things a bit easier.
by Maggie F (3rd year, Junior)
The Columbus Space Program (CSP) is a unique team for a variety of reasons from all program areas. From outreach to mechanical, the DREAMS program to the #SeeItBeIt program, CSP has something for everyone. Moreover, what makes the CSP so unique truly lies in the eye of the beholder. Everyone takes something different aware of their time on the team. Consequently, everyone learns to value various aspects of the team. Personally, I have found that the most distinguishing factor of CSP is the atmosphere.
Like most sports teams, the CSP atmosphere is a second family to a number of its students. However, what makes CSP different is that the members of this family come from extremely diverse backgrounds. The best way to illustrate this is to recall a conversation I had with one of my peers before a school vacation. The two of us discussed our family plans for the break, and my peer explained to me that his family would be going on a yearly ski trip. Moreover, this explanation developed into stories of the numerous family trips to Europe this peer had experienced. My peer also discussed their experiences with moving and the small houses they had to live in for short periods. To contextualize this conversation, my family spent that same holiday in a friend's cabin, which was extremely unusual for us. Furthermore, all the houses I have ever lived in were, at best, houses my peer called small. Unlike other teams, our different backgrounds don’t impact the way we work together as a team. .
The CSP atmosphere is a family atmosphere which focuses on what people can accomplish with what they have, not what they don't have. My peer and I are an excellent example of this. The two of us don’t view the world with the same perspective, yet CSP allows both of us to succeed so long as we genuinely attempt to do the best we can. Ultimately, the CSP atmosphere is the personification of a quote from Randy Pausch, a computer scientist. "Engineering isn't about perfect solutions; it's about doing the best you can with limited resources." CSP not only teaches this ideology, but the very team itself embodies this ideology.
This year, we started a program that has already made us so proud of its accomplishments. We recognized that during COVID the focus was usually placed on physical health of people, with mental health and social needs placed at a lower priority. While many teams elected to work on supporting health care workers with PPE, we found a new program that will outlive this horrific pandemic. We have helped provide PPE as needed like many teams, but we decided that developing a program in support of the general population would be an important difference.
We launched the program in October. Since that is Breast Cancer Awareness and Childhood Cancer Awareness month, we thought we should support the John B. Amos Cancer Center with a donation for survivors. This led to a donation drive that we can continue annually. November, we wanted to support the homeless community and those who are dealing with colder temperatures without family support. This time, we collected food and personal items for the homeless community and donated our proceeds to Feeding the Valley. We thought this was a great way for us to continue reaching special communities in Columbus. December is about family celebrations for most people, and we are all dealing with loneliness this year, so our focus was on Nursing Homes. We know that this community has been hardest hit by the virus and that the warnings to avoid gatherings will impact our long-term care residents even more than most. Selecting a home to provide our donations allowed us to spotlight ways that we can support a community that is part of the Greatest Generation. And, hopefully next year, we’ll be able to expand this program to include visitation to local Nursing Homes.
This is not a Covid program. It might have started that way, because we wanted to do more outreach even during the pandemic, but it’s become so much more. We are already planning our next months’ donations and themes, and we know that this will help people in ways that support their mental and physical health. Hopefully, we will grow this program even more after this pandemic.
We figured a lot of people would want to know our future themes; in case they could help us to support the community.
As you can well, we have delineated many parts of our community in support of more than just physical needs. For us it’s about – Caring for Special People (CSP).
by Guest Blogger Hallie Richardson, class of 2018, college mentor
One of the moments where I felt the most pride for this team was back in freshman year of college at the state championship when CSP won the Chairman Award at the Georgia State Championship. Allow me to take it back a bit and give a bit of insight to this:
My 8th grade year, when I first joined CSP, I remember not really wanting to be very involved. I first joined the team primarily because my father was the coach, honestly. Some of the other members looked down on me because I was an 8th grader, so I already felt different than everyone else but also the team members were very focused on winning and that was it. I have always been a very energetic, social type of person and so I found it hard to let that go and focus on the robot itself, especially considering I did not really want to be there in the first place.
Flash forward a year and I was officially a freshman in high school. This was the year that I first went to the World Championship. The team was still very antisocial and borderline arrogant toward other teams and I, for the most part, tried to stay away and focus on creating good relations with other teams and be the hype person I am by being the mascot as well. Of course, I was always focused on the robot and was the electronics lead for all of my years on the team, but I was not as focused on it as my teammates, so yet again, I was left out of a lot. During the first competition that we went to, the Georgia Southern Classic Regional in Perry, GA, I spent a lot of the time talking to another team: 233, the Pink Team. They were known for having everyone on their team get up to dance, talk to other teams, have a robot that looked amazing while working great, their outreach as a Hall of Fame team, and overall the intense amount of fun that all of their members had on the team. After that, I knew that I wanted my team to be just like that. As soon as we got home from that competition, I researched what it was like to have a strong brand and how to develop that. I also started to really get into Industrial Design and how to make products/solutions that served both form AND function capabilities. I even went to a few workshops at the World Championship in St. Louis that were about brand, led by the team that I later would mentor, 1902: Exploding Bacon.
The next year, I decided to have an entire rebrand of the team. I wanted for us to wear one shirt – we previously had two shirts that we would wear: one that was black for the first day of competition and one that was blue for the next day. I knew that black and blue were two of the most common shirt colors in all of robotics, so I wanted to have a shirt that really stood out. I looked at all of the teams in Georgia and noticed that there were no teams that wore green… so we then became the Kelly-Green team. I also had an idea for a logo – something that incorporated every bit of our programs: the earth for our D.R.E.A.M.S. launches, the gear for the robotics team, and the cube that goes over it as the CubeSAT’s that we make. I had one of the other members, Ashita, make this logo into exactly as I imagined and to this day, that is the logo that we still have. I also noticed that many of the bigger teams at the competitions had flags, so I made a flag for the team. I mostly wanted to really start incorporating art into the team and recruiting artists so that we could produce not only a robot that was amazing but a wonderful dose of digital content as well as an overall sense of brand for our team.
Lastly, one of the most challenging parts of the changes that I wanted to make was making the robot and pit work amazing while looking beautiful. I tried working with some of the designers, but they would always tell me, “it doesn’t matter what it looks like -- it just needs to work.” This was one of the most frustrating things for me because I knew that the things that would make it look better would not necessarily make the design process take longer, they just did not think it was important. One of the biggest reasons why The Pink Team made such an impact on me was because of how pretty their pit and their robot were. Slowly but surely, however, they started to listen to me a bit and we had designs that were cut out of the sides of the robots, our robot was spray painted for the first time and it was one of the most successful robots we ever had in my sophomore year. This continued and we started to have robots that were absolutely amazing and also looked really good. We even got an in-house powder coater just like so many of the big teams!
One of the other biggest things about my team was that I never really felt connected to them when I first joined. I felt like an outsider the entire time because not only was I the coach’s kid – which automatically made people feel like they needed to stay away from me – but I also was interested in other things like dance and theatre and my personality made me stand out from them. I was always the only person to get up and dance to all of the line dance songs that they played at competition, I was the only one to cheer for my team, the only one to go to other teams and make friends and my teammates thought I was weird because of it. One of them even told me to my face, “I don’t care if no one likes us, I’m just here to win.” I took that as a challenge. Over the next few years, I oversaw the entire recruitment process and I got to choose the content that we used to recruit those people. Because of this, I was able to make my focus on the types of people that I WANTED my team to look like: artists, engineers, social butterflies, people who loved community service, writers, energetic people, and people who genuinely just wanted to have fun building robots.
A few years passed by and I became a senior. At my last competition, I found myself surrounded by my best friends – all dressed in green, with black pants – dancing the Cotton Eye Joe as we won match after match after match. I knew that my ultimate dream became a reality and I began to cry. I am a very emotional person, granted, but this was because I was able to know that I truly made a difference on my team and I was able to prove so many people wrong, both students and adults.
Now, while this was an extremely proud moment for me, it still does not beat what I encountered a year later. By that time, I had been in college for a year, I was mentoring Exploding Bacon, and I was only able to mentor my team from 7 hours away. I saw that my team was doing amazing things, and everyone was dancing and being themselves, but it was nothing that was very different than the year before. I got to the competition and immediately I was met with so much love from my former team members and I felt at home once again. I started to work with the Chairman team and I noticed that their presentation was good – obviously, because they won the regional event with it – but I knew that it was missing so much so I sat down with the Chairman team the entire day of their presentation. We changed some of the emphasis points, we ran over interview questions, and we rehearsed the entire 7-minute presentation a good 40 times. We had only won Chairman twice before: my senior year and at the previous competition that got them to state but we had never won at the state level. They went in, did the presentation and they said that they felt confident with what they had done, and we waited. Finally, it was time for the award ceremony. I had to help give out the Dean’s List award as I was a previous winner but as soon as I was done with that, I went to sit with my team. They started to announce the team that had won, and my heart stopped. I sat there holding the Chairman’s Team’s hands, bowing my head and praying that they won it as my mother put her hand on my back. Next thing I know, they say my team’s name. The entire team jumped up from their seats, screamed and ran to the field. As soon as we all went through and got our medals, the entire team went into a huddle full of tears and we all shouted our team chant before we watched the video. Eyes full of tears, I realized that I had gotten everything that I had ever dreamed for from my team. I no longer have to imagine my team as what it would be like if it were more like those other incredible teams I had previously emulated because they had become that team. THIS was what I always imagined my team to be like. They finally became the team that I now show to all of my college friends.
CSP had become my new dream team.
by Guest Blogger, Emme Van Doorn, class of 2019, College Mentor
CSP is a unique environment where every student is encouraged to be proactive and self-confident. I was never told no, always: ‘go for it’, ‘try it out’. Failure was always an opportunity for learning and growing: an important lesson, especially in college. After going remote in the spring, I basically had to relearn how I learned, and how I stayed motivated (thanks Netflix), and initially the switch to remote learning felt like the sensation described by Hannah Montana in the ballad of her eponymous movie. Eventually that mountain plateaued because of plenteous opportunities for growth :), but mostly because of the values I learned at CSP. At CSP, I was allowed to join any part of the team that I wanted and invest time in projects that really interested me. That ‘reach for the stars’ mentality is unique to CSP and FIRST, empowering students to take charge of their futures and our generation’s future. The instilled proactivity and confidence enabled me to become a leader in my college organizations, to self-start STEM and outreach projects, and get jobs; to go for it.
Though long hours sometimes stretched into the night at HQ, lengthening with the rise of the moon, and exhaustion peaked day 3 at competition – it was worth it. The late-night card games, Walmart snack trips, coffee runs, dancing, and laughs: all reflect the joy of robotics. Not only did I gain skills, I also made life-long friends that continue to spread that joy to this day.
A couple of years ago, we did a blog series and a vlog series, but we’ve taken some time away. With the change for Covid, everything has changed. In fact, it’s been long enough that last time we did a post none of our current team were part of the program and we were in a different building. We are bringing it back now, written by the entire media team. We will also have guest posts by alumni, mentors, and sponsors. This will allow us to look at what’s going on in CSP, in our related businesses, and in our alumni base. But, what do you want to see? We can spotlight our robots, or we can talk our outreach programs. We can share ideas in our graphics team, or we can cover new machines we’ve acquired. For now, we are planning to be pretty eclectic in our selection of topics, so if you see something you like, we need to know.
Our program and teams have experienced drastic growth in the last five years, and we are still growing even in the crazy world of 2020. We’ve noticed that we have lost our touch with our past, so that’s a focus we’re taking moving forward. We are also having to find new ways to stay in touch with our community to keep people safe, and this has allowed us to find some new outreach programs. We don’t want to let go of our Tech It Out and Robotics in the Classroom programs, though so we are focusing and cross-pollinating when we can. This will be a challenge in 2021, but we’re up for the challenge. Maybe a side benefit will let more local kids experience FIRST in Columbus. After all, we will all say that you just don’t GET IT until you go to an FRC competition. Even team members that did Tech It Out and visited the Columbus event tell us it’s different to be part of a team. That is wonderful! We can try to describe it here, though.
So, outreach, robots, advanced programs (DREAMS and CubeSat), machining, driving, programming . . . what sounds good? What do you want to read? Do you want to understand our brand? Is it our systems engineering processes? How about 5S? Our approach toward awards? We want to tell you our story. You tell us the chapter you want to read.