Female robotics club battles to the top

The Heat it up and Keep it cool all-female robotics team took home the First Place Inspire Award at the FTC West Super-Regional Championship Tournament. Courtesy of Teresa Smalley.
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Members of Santa Clarita’s all-female robotics team know how to heat up the competition while keeping their cool under pressure.

Made up of four high school students, the team of FTC 8496, or Heat it up and Keep it cool, includes Amanda West, a freshman at Saugus High School; TaylorAnne Brown, a junior who is homeschooled through SCVi and takes classes at Mission College; Hanena Lee, a junior at West Ranch High School; and Olivia Smalley, a junior at Academy of the Canyons.

Currently in its seventh year, the team began competing as a FIRST LEGO League Team before transitioning to a FIRST Tech Challenge Team.

“They have worked very hard, through vacation days, holidays and about 15-20 hours a week or more,” said Teresa Smalley, coach of FTC 8496 and president of Heat it up and Keep it cool Robotics Inc.  “The girls are dedicated and aware that they are learning skills they will use the rest of their lives.”

The team prides itself on pursuing its core values and completing community outreach initiatives, in addition to building innovative robots and performing well in competitions.

This year Heat it up and Keep it cool had one of its best seasons yet, taking home first place and the Inspire Award at the FTC West Super-Regional Tournament in Tacoma, Wash.

“It was quite emotional and the girls were so excited,” Smalley said.  “We’re all kind of still in shock.  It put us in a whole new league.”

Regional Tournament

Before winning the FTC West Super-Regional Tournament, Heat it up and Keep it Cool began its season in August, designing and updating its robot, competing in league and inner league meets, and competing in the Los Angeles Championship.

During the three-day Super-Regional from March 9 to 12, Heat it up and Keep it cool competed against 73 teams from 13 western states for a seat at the World Festival this April.

“We realized quickly at the Super-Regional that it was going to be tough,” Smalley said.  “We were up against a team we’ve admired for a while.”

However, Heat it up and Keep it cool won the First Place Inspire Award, equal to the first place championship.

“When they started to describe the team that won the championship it was quite emotional,” Smalley said.  “The excitement was great and it was really wonderful.”

The Inspire Award ranks the highest robot in performance and design, and includes elements of competitive outreach and the team’s engineering notebook.

“It’s not just robots,” Smalley said.  “The kids are judged on an engineering notebook that they prepare all year… and if they do a tremendous amount of outreach.”

Smalley also credits FTC 8496’s success to Heat it up and Keep it Cool’s drive team, which works together to move the robot and manipulate its attachments.

“Communication is extremely important and being able to work together and trust each other,” she said.  “The three girls work so well together and it’s really fun to watch them.”

Community Outreach

A major component of Heat it up and Keep it cool’s mission is by focusing on its core values and giving back to the Santa Clarita Valley community.

“One of the philosophies of the program is that because the kids are being given so much from their mentors that they need to give back,” Smalley said.

Every year, each student logs approximately 100 hours of community service by leading the FIRST LEGO kickoff for teams in the area, mentoring teams from around the county and world, hosting demonstrations at school districts and tournaments and acting as a mentor through FIRST International.

However, the team’s main outreach event this year was mentoring four FIRST LEGO League Jr. teams, ages 5 to 9, at the Old Town Newhall Library for 10 weeks.  During the program, team members introduced concepts of robot design, programming and teamwork.

“They had a blast getting to know the kids individually and became very attached to them,” Smalley said.  “I think they grew as much as the kids did.”

National Competition

But before they head to the Robotics World Championship in Houston this April, Smalley is making sure the students commemorate what they’ve accomplished thus far.

“I want to make sure that they take some time right now to celebrate what they’ve done,” she said.  “When we go to worlds, we may not place and I want them to have celebrated everything now before it gets lost.”

The team is also working on hosting a fundraiser this Saturday at Barnes and Noble Valencia to cover the $1,000 registration and equipment shipping fees.

During Saturday’s fundraiser, the team will also demonstrate their robots for visitors in the community room from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

All day, Barnes and Nobel will donate a portion of bookstore and coffee shop purchases to the team when shoppers mention the robotics competition at the checkout.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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