The Southold/Greenport Robotics Team, R.I.C.E. 870, tasted first-place victory last week while participating in the 2019 Finger Lakes Regional competition.
Their win at Rochester Institute of Technology not only showed they have the ability to defeat high-caliber teams, but gave them a ticket to compete in the world championships in Detroit, touted as the world’s largest student-oriented STEM competition.
In just six weeks, the combined high school club planned, designed, built, tested and troubleshot a working robot that could carry out complex tasks, according to team adviser and Southold High School math teacher Christine Schade. R.I.C.E. stands for respect, integrity, compassion and equity — all qualities Ms. Schade says her students possess.
Team members were expected to race their bot against competitors’, attaching panels, loading cargo and then returning the bot to its “habitat” — all while avoiding a simulated sandstorm, which was created to obstruct the team’s vision.
A variety of sub-groups exists within R.I.C.E. 870, including a safety team, drive team, art team and media and business team. Each team is integral to the club’s overall success during competition. As if they were traveling through deep space — the theme of this year’s FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] competition — students had to either draw up code or manually configure a system that could control the bot’s movements and maintain awareness of its surroundings.
At last week’s Finger Lakes Regional, R.I.C.E. 870 did just that with an alliance of two other teams, outranking and outscoring 47 competitors. Southold/Greenport’s bot was two out of three in the finals, and went on to outperform its top competitor, Team 1551 of Naples, N.Y., in terms of cargo delivery, panel attachment and navigating the sandstorm.
“It was a phenomenal win … Speechless, we’re all speechless,” Ms. Schade said. “These kids have put in countless, countless hours, so it was just a phenomenal feat. This win is totally theirs.”
Team co-president Drew Wolf, a Greenport junior, said that from the hours the team’s mentors set aside to the overwhelming support they provided, those efforts made the team’s success a reality.
“It’s all problem solving, but we’re trying to make our solutions very simple,” Drew said.
Ms. Schade, who oversaw team operations, said that the 33 team members from Greenport and Southold high schools worked on the bot regularly from 2:45 p.m., when school lets out, until about 10 p.m. While not every member had to come in every day, the time commitment was significant. Many club members were juggling other clubs, sports, musical responsibilities, schoolwork, exams, familial obligations and, in some cases, SAT and ACT prep.
“It was really hard,” Kat Kilcommmons, a Southold junior, said of the time management aspect. “I do about seven other clubs besides robotics and I do sports every season, so it’s really hard to time manage.” Add SAT courses to that, plus Kat’s role as art department head, and she was left with little time for much else.
Still, Ms. Schade said, her students exhibited unparalleled dedication. “I think a program like this helps to model the dedication needed for success,” she said. “The kids are hungry for more. You can tell that. You can tell that when you watch them play and persevere.”
She attributes the team’s success to its many mentors and sponsors — and the new robotics room given to the team by the Southold School District.
“For the district to set aside a dedicated work space for us was huge,” she said. “I think the kids really felt that this was important. To have Southold schools give us this space … they are extremely supportive of STEM. I just feel very lucky to be an educator in this district.”
Molly Tuthill, a junior at Southold who transferred from now-defunct Bishop McGann-Mercy High School, joined the robotics club almost immediately after starting at her new school. She worked on the safety team, as well as the business and media team.
Molly said her biggest takeaway was that whether working alone or as a team, there will always be bumps in the road. R.I.C.E 870 certainly had its share at the Finger Lakes Regional when its bot stopped functioning properly and members had to disengage one of its mechanisms ahead of the second match in the finals. Molly and Kat, both in their first year with R.I.C.E., joined the roughly 13 girls who are now part of the team.
“It is more than just robotics,” Molly said. “You join a family.”
R.I.C.E. 870 is scheduled to compete again next week at Hofstra’s School-Business Partnership of Long Island Regional, where students will feel a bit less pressure but say they very much plan to bring home a win. Looking forward, the team will be in Detroit April 24-27 for the worlds competition, where members will compete against approximately 400 other teams.
“We’re not too worried,” Ms. Schade said. “We got compliments left and right on how beautiful our robot was.”
Top photo caption: The Southold/Greenport high school robotics team at the 2019 Finger Lakes Regional competition at Rochester Institute of Technology last week. (Credit: Scott Borden, courtesy photo)