INTEGRIST Gets DERT-y with Robotics

Supporting and inspiring the next generation of Engineers…and getting DERT-Y

Giving kids the bug to change the world and use engineering to solve problems is what motivates one Integris staff member to volunteer as a mentor to a local FIRST Robotics Club.   Jeff DeHeer, Manager-Engineering Projects at Integris, works with DERT; the Dunlap Eagles Robotics Team at Dunlap High School. DERT introduce Peoria-area high school students to the challenges and rewards inherent in engineering, design and in business via the FIRST Robotics program.   FIRST programs encourage student’s technical experiences from Junior Lego Leagues all the way thru high school robotics clubs.

“I can’t say enough about what this program does for kids. It inspires kids; it excites them and its fun. The kids get a chance to design something, to weld, to see their ideas built and running in the shop. It’s great to see what the kids can do and work hard to achieve” explains Jeff.     The next generation of successful engineers is enthusiastic and energized by this type of experience. “Our club really lets the kids drive the projects, they come up with some crazy ideas and we will work to rein it in to practical but we really let them drive it. It’s their project, not ours; their successes and their challenges. We had some tipping issues at the last competition that the kids will be working to correct” shares Jeff.

FIRST Robotics started in 1989 and has grown in involve 3,000 teams from all across the country.   Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.  Robots are built in the first 6 weeks from a common kit of parts provided by FIRST, and typically weigh approximately 120 lbs. It’s as close to “real-world engineering” as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team. FIRST events happen across 8 weeks and culminate in national championship competitions in late April in St. Louis. To learn more about FIRST Robotics visit their website at USFIRST.org.

Each school year, the robotic teams are given a new themed competition.   The first week in January, the challenge for the year is announced and teams have 6 weeks to build a robot to enter in that years games. The 2015 RECYCLE RUSH is a recycling-themed game played by two Alliances of three robots each. Robots score points by stacking totes on scoring platforms, capping those stacks with recycling containers, and properly disposing of pool noodles, representing litter. In keeping with the recycling theme of the game, all game pieces used are reusable or recyclable by teams in their home locations or by FIRST at the end of the season.

Jeff volunteers as a CAD mentor for the local DERT team and got involved at this level when his oldest daughter was in eighth grade.    “It’s a great chance to help kids experience new things from a technical point of view and we all get to play with cool new things.”   The DERT team students and mentors met 6+ days a week to be ready for the competitions which got started in March.   Following each competition, the team modifies and works on the robot based on its performance, successes and challenges from the experience.

DERT is not just about the technical side. Team members are responsible for the business side of the club as well. They market the club and raise the approximately $35,000 it takes to participate as well as planning the logistics of getting the team and the robot to competitions.   Jeff’s daughters were involved in the business side of it all thru their high school experiences.

The program also encourages clubs to be active in outreach activities in their communities that are not tied to the club. The DERT team actively supports and participated in local FIRST Lego Leagues for elementary students. The focus of FIRST Lego Leagues is more conceptual and challenges younger kids to understand and solve real-world problems. In his earlier FIRST volunteer experiences, Jeff mentored a team that worked on solutions to purifying water. Coming from kids, the solutions were creative and visionary but not generally practical. But the program builds great awareness of the need for new ideas to solve problems and help others.

Stay tuned for competition results update from DERT here at the Integris Blog the first week in April

For more information on DERT check out their website DERT2040.com