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Robots Battle in the Buckeye State
FIRST, Buckeye Regional, Robotics, Competition More than 40 robots rallied in Cleveland, Ohio, for an intense tournament. Music pulsated, referees whistled and fans cheered as the machines faced off in three-on-three matches that resembled basketball.

Remotely operated by the high school students who built them, the robots were competing in the fifth annual FIRST Buckeye Regional Robotics Competition. The event took place at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center March 9 - 11.

NASA's Glenn Research Center co-sponsors the annual regional competition, which combines the excitement of sports with engineering challenges. The goal? To inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering.

Image right: Students from East Technical High School lift their robot onto the playing field. Credit: NASA

"In school, they usually learn theories," said Glenn Aerospace Engineer Kathy Tacina, who mentored one of the teams. "But at FIRST, they learn the practical application."

The students, who came from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin, had six weeks to build their robots. Every team received the same kit and had to meet the same requirements for size, weight and functionality. Yet each robot was unique.

FIRST, Buckeye Regional, Robotics, Competition "When they see all the different designs everyone came up with for solving the same problem, they realize how much engineering is an art in addition to a science," Tacina said. "Some kids who initially aren't that interested in the theory will be very interested in the design process."

This has certainly been true for many of the students at Cleveland's East Technical High School, one of two teams that NASA Glenn sponsors. Since the school began competing 14 years ago, several of its team members have completed internships at NASA Glenn. Members of this year's team plan to carry on that tradition.

Image left: NASA Glenn Exhibit Manager Richard Manco officiates a match. Manco, who served as head referee at the Buckeye Regional, was named Volunteer of the Year. Credit: NASA

"I've learned a lot about engineering," said sophomore Jamaica, who wants to be a biomechanical engineer. "I'll apply for a job at NASA when I get my degree."

In addition to building and operating robots, students learned to create a business plan, manage a budget and market their teams. East Technical sophomore Dramana, who served as the team treasurer, says FIRST helped her develop better communication skills.

FIRST, Buckeye Regional, Robotics, Competition "I've learned about friendship and working with others," she said. "I'm usually the quiet type, but I talked to a lot of people I didn't know during the competition."

The only thing that bothered Dramana about the Buckeye Regional was that it didn't last longer.

"Three days go by really fast."

Image right: Astronaut Don Thomas chats with students and signs autographs. Credit: NASA

Fortunately, East Technical has earned the right to compete in the finals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., April 27 through 29, so Dramana and her teammates have three more days of fun and intense competition ahead of them.

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Jan Wittry (SGT, Inc.)