The team’s qualification to the World Championships is an impressive feat to anyone, especially considering the team’s humble starting point.
Two years ago, the robotics team was nothing but a Wednesday activity. Led by captains Josh Ip '18 and Liana Tilton '19, the team made its FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) debut one year ago. At this time, the robotics program at Hop had evolved from this small group to two competition ready teams and a club.
Even though the team barely qualified for States last year, the accomplishment marked a significant turning point for Hopkins robotics. This year, with a season of experience under its belt, the team not only qualified for States, but also set a record for its event. The team also won the Inspire Award, a prize given to the most well-rounded team, as well as the Think Award, given to the team with the best engineering notebook. Additionally, the team qualified for the Super Regional Competition, an event in which only three teams from Connecticut compete.
Tilton reflected on the team's qualifying: “When the judges announced our name, I remember all of us jumping out of our seats, beaming with smiles, and hugging each other. I, myself, could not stop smiling for the rest of the weekend. The countless hours and energy that everyone had dedicated to the team had really paid off.”
The team kept its streak of hard work and success to Super Regionals, taking ninth out of 72 teams and qualifying for the World Championships. This success was particularly exciting to members of the team, as the group started the year unsuccessful, finishing last in their first competition. Ip, one of the captains and the most experienced team member, reflected on the team’s improvement: “Starting in January, we went unbeaten in two straight qualifying rounds of competition. We literally went from a team that no one thought or cared about to the best team in the state, and that’s pretty amazing.”
The robotics program, as a whole, has a unique dynamic. The group included two teams: one team of experienced builders and programmers and another of inexperienced Hopkins students trying to learn something new. Overall, even with a useful base for resources, information, and help, including the head coach Lynn Connelly, the team is very independent and apt at solving problems. Connelly referenced the team’s work ethic: “The team is very energetic and really has a passionate drive to design and build the best robot possible. As an engineer myself, it's great to see the students get experience with going through the engineering design process.”
Tilton applauded the team’s independent spirit: “We pride ourselves for being almost entirely self-taught. Each of us has learned the essentials of robotics on our own by watching many Youtube videos and learning from more experienced team members. We design, plan, build, and organize almost everything ourselves.” This group is also very dedicated to their projects, devoting time for the robot during and after school, as well as off days and breaks. Adwith Mukherjee '19 commented on the team's chemistry: “The robotics team is a lot like any other team on the hill. We spend a lot of time together in the robotics room, so naturally there are ups and downs. But in the end we all work really well together and it's allowed us to build a successful robot.”
The members of Hopkins Robotics tries not only to improve their own skills, but also helps those in the community get interested in this activity. The team, especially the captains, devote countless hours toward outreach programs like Pathfinder to teach robotics to younger children and spark an early interest in STEM.
Connelly described the team’s dedication to both their robot and community service: “The best part of the group is the camaraderie between the students and their dedication to the team. The robotics league that we are a part of requires teams not only to build a robot but also create an engineering notebook and provide outreach to the community.
Members of the team teach robotics to Pathfinder and do other forms of outreach. Our engineering notebook documents the entire year and is reviewed and critiqued by judges at competitions. So really being on the robotics team is so much more than only building a robot; the students are learning how to be engineers.”
Hopkins Robotics has evolved from a small Wednesday activity to a large, serious, and competitive team. For anyone interested in joining a club next year, this club has several outreach programs that allow anyone to experience robotics,including club and rookie teams.
Tilton reflected on the program: “What many people don’t realize is that a robotics team is more than just building a robot. The writing of a very detailed engineering notebook, the planning of all outreach efforts, ordering the many, many parts, keeping track of finances, and much more, must be organized.”
The team entered Worlds with low expectations. According to Ben Goldstein ’19, one team goal was to defeat more than 20 percent of its competitors. The Hopkins team ended the tournament with a record of 5-4 earning a twelfth-place finish. In only a year, Hopkins Robotics has bounded from a regional competitor to a Worlds powerhouse.
Next year, led by Tilton and Mukherjee, the team hopes to continue their dominant run and to expand their program with new teams, hopefully including the Junior School.