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FIRST Robotics Competition comes to Split!

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

29.04.2021.

FIRST Robotics Competition

Not even a full year since its founding, Split International School has already “hit the ground running” and, in collaboration with the Center for Excellence for the Split-Dalmatia County, is bringing the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) to our town! Talk about rocket speed!

We’ve mentioned this particular project briefly when we introduced you to Split International School back in February, but now that this valuable project is coming together in our city, we definitely need to tell you more about it.

What is the FIRST Robotics Competition?

The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is an international high school robotics competition founded in the USA. It combines the excitement of a sport with the rigors of science and technology. Each year, thousands of teams of high school students, coaches, and mentors work for two months to build robots capable of competing in that year’s game that weigh up to 57 kg.

 

 

Students from across America, and throughout the globe, meet to compete during regional tournaments, and ultimately at the World Championships held in Detroit and Houston. Therefore, the FRC project aims to bring this very same excitement and energy to Split and the surrounding area, and raise the level and visibility of STEM education in the region.

How does the FRC project work?

Dr. John Rogošić, a veteran FRC mentor from California and MIT alumni with over a decade of teaching experience, who is also one of the founders of Split International School, will collaborate with The Center of Excellence of the Split-Dalmatia County (CI-SDZ), an educational enrichment center for gifted students that encourages student excellence, in the creation of Split’s FRC team.

 

 

The team will have 20-30 students who will come from several different high schools and backgrounds. The aim is to have a multi-cultural group of Croatian and foreign students who all have different skill sets that they can contribute to the team, as well as develop them further and also learn something new in the process.

The students will work together with teachers and industry mentors in the areas of computer-aided design (CAD), fabrication, programming, and electronics to design and build an FRC-style robot over the course of a year. Weekly meetings and work sessions will be held, and overall the team will operate in a style typical of US-based FRC teams.

 

 

The first year of this program will consist of three phases. Students will start with a ramp-up and learning phase, where they will develop the necessary software and hardware skills required. During the second phase of the project, students will build and program a robot capable of scoring a goal with a soccer ball. The third phase of the project will consist of community outreach events and activities with the robot to build positive energy in the community for STEM education.

The behind-the-scenes story of FRC in Split

The team’s head mentor, Dr. John Rogošić, has taken the time to answer some of our questions about this project, so we will let him tell you all about it and why it is of importance for Split’s youth, its tech community, but also the society as a whole.

Having already had experience with FRC projects, what are your personal views on how it can benefit young people and their local community?

“FIRST Robotics changes lives. There is no better program for teenagers to experience what it is like to work on a team on a large-scale engineering project – FRC is as close to real-world engineering as high school students can get. Students are given the opportunity to work closely with industry professionals – engineers, computer programmers, and other adults who share their expertise and experiences with them.

Beyond the technical aspects of the program, teenagers are exposed to an international robotics community with their peers from across the globe, which can lead to a broadening of perspectives and has the potential to powerfully impact them as young adults.

As a part of this program, teenagers are also encouraged to give back to their local community – they volunteer their time to work with younger children, undertake community service projects, and learn to become good people. I am excited to see what this project can bring to Split over the next few years, and personally cannot wait to be a part of it.”

Who was the biggest help to you in the realization of this project: any organizations and institutions that provided you with any type of assistance; but also to you personally – anyone who offered advice, was a good person to bounce ideas from, and generally was there for you throughout the process?

“Obviously, all the organizations and institutions that have been involved in this project have been incredibly helpful and really contributed towards its realization. I have to start by thanking the Centar Izvrsnosti for their collaboration with our school and initial support in bringing this project to life. Another organization that has been very helpful is the ICT Županija, which has been instrumental for support and networking and has graciously allowed us to use their facilities and resources to make this project a success.

Finally, the broader tech community in Split has been excited by this project and we are excited to be working on additional partnerships at the moment.

However, if I had to pick one individual person who was most influential to me on this project, I would have to say Professor Leon Cox.

A retired manufacturing professor at the New Mexico State University, Leon began working with high school students in his early 70s, and we collaborated for several years in California in founding our first successful FRC team together. Leon was more than a mentor to our students, he helped me become the educator that I am today, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”

What was the most challenging issue on the journey from your idea to bring FRC to Croatia to its realization, and how did you resolve it?

“Our biggest challenge on this project right now is the recruitment of volunteer adult mentors. Most FRC teams are not run by teachers. Instead, they are run by industry professionals: engineers, computer programmers, marketing experts – just to name a few. In the US, teams typically consist of about 15-25 students and 5-7 adult mentors working together in a number of different areas. Mentors are typically parents of former students who continue to work with the team after their students have graduated to attend university, or alumni of the FIRST Robotics program participants themselves, who want to volunteer to give back to the community.

 

 

As educational robotics is still relatively new in Croatia, our volunteer base is very underdeveloped. We still have not solved that problem, but we are working to build excitement and momentum for our FRC team within the tech community. I would encourage anyone reading this article to take a look at our FRC website and find out more about what it means to be an FRC mentor.

Personally, being a mentor for an FRC team has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I know several other FRC mentors who would agree with me.”

What skills and lessons learned from your previous FRC mentoring experiences do you think could benefit you in this new FRC project?

“At my previous school in California, we had a fully established robotics program that included FLL, FTC, and VEX programs, but we actually did not have an FRC team when I started working there. I worked with students from the start to found and grow our FRC team over the course of several years. We attended multiple tournaments as well as the world championship.

This is a story I am hoping to replicate here, first by building a team of talented students, then by working with adult mentors to guide them all the way through our first tournament in Istanbul in 2023. The most important lesson I took away from founding our previous FRC team in California is the immense impact that positivity and motivation can have on a group of young people.

Motivated students can accomplish more than most adults if you give them the tools and guidance they need for success.”

How excited are you about this, considering this is the first FRC project in Split?

“I am extremely excited! Having worked with FRC teams from across the San Francisco Bay area, I have seen firsthand the level of enthusiasm and energy that FRC can bring to a community. We will be the second team in Croatia, but the first in Dalmatia. There is one team based out of Rijeka that just started last year. We are hoping that our team can bring a lot of international experience and exposure to FRC in Croatia, and encourage more initiatives to start across the country and in Zagreb, as well.”

How will you choose the student team: will interested students be able to apply on their own, or do institutions (schools, organizations, etc.) apply their students for this program? And do you already have any applicants?

“We have been working in collaboration with the Center for Excellence of the Split-Dalmatia County to identify and recruit interested students.

We have actually had over 40 student applicants from many different schools and backgrounds, and are excited there has been so much enthusiasm for this project so far.

Right now, our biggest challenge is recruiting interested mentors who want to work with these talented youth to make this program a reality.”

How do you see the future of FRC in Croatia?

“I would absolutely love to see some new teams created over the next several years, to create a true robotics ecosystem as they have in Turkey, Israel, and the Netherlands. Opportunities like FRC really help drive innovation, not only by helping students develop technical skills but also through building their confidence and giving them experience with professional and organizational tools needed to succeed in a start-up or business. I would love for Croatia to become a regional leader for robotics in the Balkans over the next decade.”

Join Split’s FRC Team!

We’d like to thank John for his insight into Dalmatia’s first FRC project and wish him and the entire FRC team he will gather lots of success in the future! We will definitely follow your progress with great enthusiasm as we can all agree its value – for the tech community overall, the local startup ecosystem, and the individuals participating, is extensive and multi-faceted.

In the end, we would like to invite you who read this to apply as a volunteer mentor if you think that is something you could do, or share this article with someone you think might be a good fit for that role. And, of course, support Split’s first FRC team on their journey to success!

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I'm a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I'm not writing about Split's tech community, you will find me somewhere in nature, in the theatre, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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