Spring—the season of the sun’s return, over-blooming flowers (allergies, ick!), and…ROBOTS!
When I was in high school, the month of March was always a thrilling one because of my involvement in robotics. After six weeks of being huddled in a cold workshop tinkering away at metal and coming home after school smelling of grease, competition season was always something I looked forward to.
This year marks my fourth year out of high school, and out of robotics as a “participant”, but that didn’t stop me from volunteering. I had a mini-rant about what happened last year, but this year turned out for the better—and I’m glad it did!
Looking back, the days leading up to a robotics competition were always exciting for me. Competitions usually took place on a Friday and Saturday, but the events really began on a Thursday. For me, the excitement always kicked in to full gear on the Wednesday before a competition. If we were traveling to a regional far away from our school, Wednesday was all about getting yourself pumped up for the “adventure” in the days ahead.
This year, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a Judge. Instead of packing my bags and counting down the minutes to Thursday morning however, I spent my Wednesday enjoying a pint of Coffee Artic Zero after working in lab. It was a gorgeous sunny day outside, but I gobbled up this frozen treat in my car.
A Pint of Coffee Artic Zero—enjoyed in my car on a warm, sunny day in March. I’ve forgotten how much I love this flavor, as it is the only AZ flavor (in my opinion) that’s sharp enough to detect and discern as ‘coffee’.
As I ate away, I couldn’t help but feel the nostalgia of my high school years in robotics. I was looking forward to the next evening’s events as a rookie judge.
Thursdays were “set-up” days and were very low key, but the fact that a few of us from our team got to travel early to the arena where the regional was taking place and prepare our “booth”, unleash our robot from its crate, and (possibly) get some practice matches in made me feel productive when I was a student on the team.
This time around, my Thursday went about as usual until approximately 5:30pm. My dad (who was judging for his third time) and I carpooled together over to the location where the regional was taking place, and were able to locate the exclusive Judges’ Room.
Snapshots during the ‘working dinner’. I also had some coffee afterwards (the mug in the left corner of the second photo is a hint).
Once we arrived, we were given our nametags, and were allowed to help ourselves to some catered dinner while the Judge Advisor went over the responsibilities we had for the weekend. After the training, we were also given parking passes for the weekend, as well as the infamous blue polos the Judges are well-known for at these competitions:
And mine even came in a fitted size for women’s—so it didn’t look like I was in a potato sack!!
We were out after an hour and a half, and I left with a feeling of excitment—ready to inspire students, as well as be inspired by them.
Fridays were when things kicked in to full gear. Our match schedule was set up, our robot was ready to go (once we plugged in a fully-charged battery), and many of us students on the team were settled in our positions. I took on a lot of responsibilities on the team when I was a student participant, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everytime I saw those adults in blue polo shirts pass by, I was an eager beaver—ready to answer every and any question they had about my team and our robot…
On this past Friday, I woke up at 6am in order to report to the Judges’ Room by 7am for breakfast. We also had a quick training on our “tools” (paperwork for filling out info about the teams, clipboards, a pit map, etc.), and then we were sent out around 8am to start interviewing teams. 9am was opening ceremonies, which was when we were also introduced to the kids and the crowds. We got to watch the first match, and then we were urged to continue meeting with our assigned teams in order to ask them questions from topics that ranged from robot design to public relations.
Some of the robots at competition.
We started deliberating around 10:30am, went back out for more interviewing, and then it was time for lunch.
Part one of my lunch on Friday. Wasn’t able to snap pics of the rest of the goodies.
At this time, we narrowed down our final teams for the awards we were planning on giving out that evening. The next step was to check back with those teams to ask them further questions in order to see which team better exemplified the award they were in the running for.
Once the final teams were chosen for Friday’s awards, it was time to write some scripts! These scripts are a cute way to introduce the award and the team being given that award, and often feature hints that gives the audience a clue as to which specific team is the winner. I had the opportunity to write such a script, and it was amusing to watch the announcers read my words during the ceremonies.
When the team name is announced, the team
walks races down to the field, and the kids (and sometimes adult mentors), are able to high-five all the judges. We were given hand sanitizer for this very reason…
Complimentary hand sanitizer, to keep hands clean after all those high-fives!
Since the matches were running 40 minutes behind schedule, Friday’s awards ceremonies were conducted pretty late. We managed to get out at 7:30pm, but it was interesting to note that report time on Saturday was exactly twelve hours later…
Saturdays were go-time for us. If we didn’t bring it on Friday, then we had to kick it up a notch (as Emeril Lagasse would say :P) on Saturday….otherwise we would be left in the dust. Once opening ceremonies were through, it was time to finish up the remainder of our matches, and to either have a running list of teams we would like on our alliance if we were in the Top 8 going into Eliminations, or to sell ourselves to other teams to ensure we would be picked. Alliance selection always had my heart racing…what would happen if we didn’t get picked?? Fortunately, I never had to deal with that when I was in school. Our team always found a spot in the Elimination rounds…
We didn’t have any training on Saturday morning, so once the kids entered the arena around 8am, we were sent to follow-up on teams that were in the running for Saturday awards. Finishing around 10am, I came back with my notes and began to organize which teams I still thought deserved to be in the running. Once everyone got back, we began to get into deliberation mode.
For the most part, many of our decisions were unanimous…at least after some convincing ;). We were able to come to our decisions fairly quickly, and so were encouraged to go back outside and watch the rest of the matches taking place. Around noon, the representatives from the top 8 ranking teams aligned themselves on the playing field for Alliance Selection. Each representative had to pick two other teams to make an alliance. So in total, 24 teams would be going forward in the Elimination rounds.
After alliances were selected, my Dad and I headed back to the Judges’ Room and had lunch. I had two plates of veggies, and some Girl Scout cookies (unpictured), which were given to us by a team comprised of Girl Scouts. The perks of being a judge at a Robotics competition…
Plate #1 of Lunch. Wish I got a picture of the Girl Scout cookies! Thin Mints and Samoas are where it’s at!
Once lunch was eaten, it was time to go back and revel in the music, dancing, energy, and robot games that were about to take place. At around 3:30pm, I went back to the Judge’s Room with my Dad to get some pick-me-up coffee. Instead, I found a rather “distracting” dessert buffet laid out for us. The cake pops immediately caught my eyes, and you know I went for those.
Desserts set out after 3pm. Vanilla and Chocolate cake pops—so moist and yummy!
The late afternoon indulgence brought my blood sugar back up enough to go back out and watch the semi-final and final rounds. The spirit in the arena was at an all-time high since Cotton-Eyed Joe, the Cupid Shuffle, and Gangnam Style brought everyone to their feet in between matches. Students, mascots, mentors, volunteers, and yes, even some judges all got up and boogied to the music. It’s not just about the science, we nerds can have fun too
Everyone is so spirited—in the middle picture, they’re waving their phones like candles.
Even though elimination matches were fun to watch, once they were over, everyone was ready to move on to awards and then to head home. So us judges quickly got into formation like we did the evening before, and got into position to high-five the winning teams with efficiency and ease. After all of the awards were given out, we all shook hands with one another and left! Funny how something that involves so much investment in the beginning doesn’t require much in the end…
I definitely had a blast being on the other side of things, and I can now honestly understand what it feels like to be an invested alumni in this program. It really does leave a mark on you for the rest of your life…in a good way of course! Even though I didn’t pursue engineering, robotics wasn’t just about that for me. I developed life, communication, and leadership skills, as well as left inspired by what science—be it biology, computer science, physics, whatever—can do, and how it can make such a meaningful impact on the world. I guess you could say this weekend was a good reminder for me to reflect on my “roots”, and pay homage to where my love for science was cultivated.
My plans for next year? I certainly want to volunteer as a judge, but at which regional depends on where I will be living in a year from now
If you are an alumni of a program/school/organization, do you try and find ways to give back?