LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) -This weekend teams from across the Valley and around the world will meet on the field of battle to put their robots to the test.

The teams are made up completely of high school students, with the help of some very special mentors sent to them from UNLV. FOX5 caught up with one team to learn more about the competition, and the bonds formed while building robots and futures.

“I never thought of…this is really great actually.”

“We didn’t have space to put in anywhere else and were thinking of putting it on the side, but…”

It’s a busy afternoon at Desert Oasis High School, as students put the final touches on their very own robot.

“It is the final days leading up to the Las Vegas Regional, we’re competing this weekend, and there’s going to be 45 teams, most of which are from Nevada, and we have teams coming from Arizona, California, Utah, as well as the Netherlands, Australia, Taipei…”

Teams and the robots will face off at the Thomas and Mack on Friday and Saturday hoping to win a spot in the world championships in Houston, but it won’t be easy.

“This is called a note, and they have to pick these up, either off the floor or from the side of the field and most of them have some sort of intake mechanism and shoot these into a variety of different goals,” explains Brenden O’Toole, a professor of mechanical engineering at UNLV. “That’s a pretty challenging task to be able to pick these up with some sort of mechanism and toss those and put them in specific places.”

But they’re not facing their challenges alone – in many cases, a UNLV student is with them lending support and guidance as a mentor.

“I think mentors are kind of, they’re kind of the lifeblood of programs, essentially a lot of programs they either begin or they end because a mentor comes in, or a mentor leaves.”

Graduate student Jonathan Lazatin is one of the mentors. Lazatin has a background in both engineering and teaching, making him a perfect fit for the program.

“I never did it as a student, once I found the program it was kind of instant like, this is what I want to be doing because it is engineering, it is working with students, it is also very competitive, and those are all things that I enjoy, Lazatin tells us.

He’s part of a push to get more mentors for more robotics teams.

“Part of trying to improve sustainability within the program is to train UNLV students to kind of act as a support mechanism for teachers who might not have a background, or experience in robotics to ensure all of the programs continue to run and have all the resources they need.”

John Fabella was introduced to engineering through a similar program – now he’s a mentor.

“I was actually part of an FRC team back in Maui, Hawaii. I was in Booth 2443 when I was in that robotics program…one of the reasons I wanted to become an engineer, just in the engineering field in general, is because of that program,” he says.

“When I learned that UNLV has this process, and giving back to the community where you can learn more about yourself and also give back to the community, it was a done deal.”

First Robotic Competitions are designed to promote STEM disciplines and career paths, but mentors say they learn more than just science.

“But, they also learn a lot about teamwork, you know, it takes a lot of people to have a successful team, any team. So they do learn a lot about how to work together, how to find support in a community, ” says O’Toole. “And so they learn a lot about robots, but they’re also learning a lot of good professional development skills too.”

In addition, they learn a lot about what FRC calls “coopertition.”

“Where we’re working together, but it’s also a competition, and that’s exactly how I would describe it. It’s super, super fun, also a little stressful, but I wind up having just the most amazing time with my friends,” shares Ryan Kirsch, a member of Desert Oasis’s robotics time. “The thing we’re most close to is a sports team. I mean, we’re a robotics team, it’s competing, it’s not just learning, it’s learning and applying those skills in a real-world situation.”

The students are eager to learn and create — and their mentors are equally enthusiastic.

“I love it! It’s exhausting, I mean, every weekend we come back from a competition and I’m just like drained, but it is…a very unique experience to be able to do this, and to be able to do it multiple times a year, I’m really fortunate to be able to do this,” says Lazatin.

There are currently 21 robotics teams in Clark and Lincoln County. The UNLV’s robotic mentorship program has provided support to all of them in some way.

The program is funded in part by a grant from the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation & Technology. It covers the mentor’s pay and some of the equipment used to fabricate parts for the robots.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *