Over 800 high school students spent their time fixing, testing and battling robots over the weekend of March 10 to 12.

Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) was the backdrop for FIRST Robotics Canada’s Ontario District competition.

The competition consisted of three robots on two teams trying to score the most points by shooting neon-yellow whiffle balls into a furnace on the court, climbing ropes and transporting plastic gears to make propellers spin.

This was the second of 10 district events in Canada before teams can proceed to the world championship in St. Louis and Houston.

FIRST Robotics Canada is an organization dedicated to encouraging high school students to consider careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. This year’s theme, STEAM, played off of their mandate but also encouraged students to be creative by dressing up and designing their robots through the ‘A’ in STEAM – the arts.

At the opening ceremony, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan addressed the teams.

“I know how hard you train and work, not just to produce robots. But the teamwork, the co-operation and training for competitions,” said Duncan.

This co-operation or “co-opertition” was present throughout.

The team from Riverdale Collegiate Institute said that the day before the competition, they visited their partner team’s school, whose team was working on their own machine. It was during this visit that the Riverdale team found out from the other team’s mentor that their robot “wasn’t going to cut it” after he inspected their robot.

“That was really good that he told us, if we came here and found out everything was out of perimeter – that would have been horrible,” said 14-year-old Amy Xie.

The team worked until 9 p.m. the night before to fix up their robot, but said that they’re happy they were able to make everything more compact.

But there’s more to the competition than just science  teams also needed to look for sponsors to help fund their projects.

Ryerson chose to sponsor a team from Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute called Paragon. The majority of the team features female students in leader positions like its captain, Rajaa Al-Sammarraie.

“Once I got to robotics, where I could make a robot and do hardware, software and all those things, it made me think that I’m actually capable [of considering engineering],” said Al-Sammarraie.

Al-Sammarraie said the team got in contact with Ryerson through their Women in Engineering program. The 17-year-old said that every year, female members of the Stephen Leacock team visit the university.

“Ryerson plays a big role in the women in engineering part because that’s how we got in touch with them and robotics. Just everything played a role in it,” said Al-Sammarraie.


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