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Robotics power mental sports

Niskayuna and Mohonasen students compete at FIRST Tech Challenge

Niskayuna students on team “01010100 01000101 01000001 01001101” make some adjustments to their robot at the regional FIRST Tech Challenge Championship Tournament at Pace University on Sunday, Jan. 27.

Niskayuna students on team “01010100 01000101 01000001 01001101” make some adjustments to their robot at the regional FIRST Tech Challenge Championship Tournament at Pace University on Sunday, Jan. 27.

— “To me, it is like you can’t lose,” DeCesare said. “If you are kid on this team you gain so much experience and knowledge.”

Evan Desso, a ninth-grade Niskayuna student, said all three of his school’s teams ended up performing well. Seeing their designs work after putting lots of effort into designing a robot was rewarding, too.

“None of us were seniors on the team so we can all do it again next year,” Desso said.

Desso said he thought it would be fun to join the robotics team, but it was a little more difficult than he first imagined.

“I thought it would be a lot more easier than it actually was. It took a lot of time to develop and come up with ideas that work,” Desso said. “It felt really good ‘cause we got it done and we were going to use the robot that we made and took forever to make.”

This was Niskayuna’s first year running the program. DeCesare got the idea to start the team from Reluzco. This was Mohonasen’s third year competing. Mohonasen and Niskayuna both received a $2,000 grant from Bechtel Group Foundation to support the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics program.

“When he told me about that grant, I jumped on it,” DeCesare said.

Bechtel also provided employees to help mentor the teams as they designed their robots. Bechtel, an engineering and construction company, operates the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna for the US Department of Energy.

The two schools run the robotics programs differently, with Niskayuna running it as a club for all high school students and Mohonasen offering it as a course to seniors completing a series of technology electives.

“We try to promote this and we show the middle school kids this is what you can do when you become a senior in high school,” Reluzco said. “We definitely use it as a tool to recruit more students into the area of technology.

Reluzco and DeCesare both have plans to try and reach students at a younger age through different programs offered by FIRST.

“I see part of my role as a coach is to make sure we build a pipeline for those kids that are interested in robotics … and make it a natural progression for the kids and community,” DeCesare said.

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