The 2024 robotics season kicked off in January with student teams for Rosie Robotics at Agawam High School and Mechatronic Maniacs at West Springfield High School ramping out work to design and build their newest robots for the first round of competition in late March.

While students learn many STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, they’re finding that working on a robotics team benefits them in other ways, too. Several members of the Mechatronic Maniacs shared why they like robotics and how it helps them beyond building robots.

When Lukas Littlejohn went to his first competition, he immediately fell in love with robotics.

“I also fell in love with engineering, and all that kind of stuff,” said the senior. “And from that point on, I’ve watched tons of videos on engineering and researched how to use CAD [computer assisted design] programs to manufacture parts with different machines we have.”

The team captain said the CAD machines he uses are similar to ones that machine shops use to make precision parts.

“I really like manufacturing, doing things with my hands. So being able to do that at such a level beyond school, is really impactful for me,” said the 17-year-old.

Littlejohn said in addition to learning new skills to build robots, he’s also honing his communication skills.

“Being able to explain what you want done, such as manufacturing a part, while leading people and delegating tasks to accomplish that, is an insanely good life skill,” said Littlejohn, who plans a career in either mechanical engineering or computer engineering.

As the team’s electrical captain, Darek Lansing has learned how to do nearly everything related to building a robot — from doing all the wiring to using different machines to learning how to use new tools he’s never seen before.

“I’m learning about how electricity works and why it works. If I can learn as much as I can here, it can help push me forward when I get into college,” he said.

But the senior is also learning another valuable skill: the importance of meeting deadlines.

“If I don’t finish my wiring in time, the coding people can’t finish their work in time. If they can’t finish their work, the robot won’t work in time and we won’t be able to go to competition. This forces me to keep up with all the deadlines and learn how to be more disciplined.”

The 16-year-old said he’s transferred his deadline discipline to his academic studies.

“My courses aren’t any easier, but now I’m more likely to turn things in on time. It’s made me better about managing my time with schoolwork,” said Lansing, who is planning a career in electrical engineering.

Thomas Welch likes all types of music, from jazz to rock to heavy metal. His career plan was to go to college and get some type of degree in music — until he joined the robotics team in ninth grade. Now, his plan is to attend a liberal arts school that has both a good science program and a good music program.

“I had an entirely different career path in mind for myself and all of a sudden that changed,” said the junior. “The science career I’m most interested in research science — writing papers and stuff for chemistry and physics.”

While there’s not much writing in the robotics program, the 17-year-old said the background knowledge he’s gained about how things work sparked his interest in a science career.

Both robotics teams compete against teams from other high schools as part of the worldwide FIRST Robotics Challenge. Each year, the challenge defines a task or set of tasks the robot must perform, and student teams have about six weeks to build and program a robot, from scratch, to enter in competitions, which start in March. Competitions typically test the robot operating autonomously (controlled by its preprogramming only) and being “driven” by remote control. Teams that do well in local competition can qualify for tournaments at the state, regional, national and eventually international level.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts