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NASA HELPS MISSISSIPPI STUDENTS COMPETE IN FIRST ROBOTICS COMPETITION
March 9, 2005
 
Two Mississippi high school teams traveled to Duluth, Ga., last week for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Peachtree regional competition. For three days, 49 teams from across the country participated in an intense and spirited competition.

Teams from Choctaw Central High School in Choctaw, Miss., and Provine High School in Jackson, Miss., represented Mississippi in the competition. Students were able to participate with help from grants from NASA Stennis Space Center, and sponsorship from various companies and individuals.

Each year FIRST presents a game problem and identical parts kits to each team. Team members spend six weeks working with teachers, engineers and other mentors to build a robot capable of performing tasks for the competition. The Mississippi FIRST teams showed technical skill and strong robot design during the competition.

Competition judges were impressed with Provine's distinctive design concept and presented the team with the Delphi Driving Tomorrow's Technology award. The award recognizes elegance in engineering in the areas of design, wiring methods, material selection, programming techniques and unique machine attributes. The Provine team was also selected to be part of an alliance that moved on to compete in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the competition.

FIRST isn't just about the robots, however. One of the most important aspects of the program is the student/mentor relationship. Provine senior Ebony Adams said she joined the robotics team because of Provine teacher and robotics mentor Lender Luse. Luse was Adams' biology teacher her sophomore year and sparked her interest in robotics. A future pharmacy major, Adams will use the lessons she learned at FIRST throughout her academic career.

The FIRST theme of gracious professionalism is one of the things that inspires students to succeed academically and in other areas of their lives as well. NASA's Choctaw Central Educator Resource Center Coordinator and team mentor Tracey Hartness says she has seen FIRST have a great impact on students. Hartness requires team members to sign contracts in which they agree to demonstrate gracious professionalism not only during robotics events but also in the classroom.

According to Hartness, two team members were having a difficult time in school this year. The students were late to class, did not complete homework assignments and did not participate in class. At the beginning of the robotics building season in January, teachers began to notice a difference. The students' grades improved, they completed homework assignments, participated in class and showed a positive change in attitude. Teachers soon realized that it was the FIRST contracts the students signed that were making the difference. "It affects their attitudes in a positive way," Hartness said. "Their class work starts to become more meaningful for them." Hartness, like all FIRST mentors, has many success stories about students who were inspired by FIRST. It seems for most, the robot is a vehicle for important life lessons and new experiences.

Although this year's competition is over for the Choctaw Central High School team, the students are already eager to begin planning for next year's FIRST season.

The Provine team is gearing up for three more days of excitement when they compete in this year's championship event at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, April 21-23.

Thirty regional competitions are being held throughout the country this spring, with the championship event taking place this April in Atlanta. Three other teams from Mississippi will participate in the FIRST competition this year. Teams from Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Miss.; Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, Miss.; and a combined team of students from Picayune Memorial High School in Picayune, Miss., and Pearl River Central High School in Carriere, Miss., will attend the Lone Star regional in Houston, Texas, March 31-April 2.

For more information about FIRST Robotics, visit http://www.usfirst.org.

For more information about NASA's Robotics Education Project, visit http://robotics.arc.nasa.gov.

Related Multimedia:
+ http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/news/newsreleases/2005/ASL-05-31-cptn1