Perry Meridian Cyber Blue head mentor Chris Fultz explains the benefits of First Robotics as the team heads to the World Championship
When Perry Meridian High School’s FIRST Robotics team Cyber Blue didn’t qualify for the World Championship last year, it gave them motivation. The team set goals for the 2017 season and number one was to qualify for the FIRST Championship.
“It takes everyone to be successful,” said head mentor, Chris Fultz. “They know as a team we have to perform solid. It takes everybody working together and performing at a high level to be successful to make it to the world championship. And it takes some luck.”
So far, Cyber Blue has executed that successful combination of teamwork and luck. The team reached its goal and will travel to St. Louis, Mo. on April 26 to compete against the top FIRST Robotics teams from across the globe.
FIRST Robotics is a program for high school students to compete with robots they have designed, built and programed. January of each year the teams are given the plot of a new game and must create a robot with specific skill-sets for that game. FIRST also judges on teamwork and community outreach.
Perry Meridian’s Cyber Blue has been around for 19 seasons now. This year there are 35 student participants and approximately 10 adult mentors.
Fultz, who has a background in engineering and currently works in program management for Rolls Royce, has been a mentor on Cyber Blue since 2001. Rolls Royce sponsored Cyber Blue. The world championship that year was in Orlando, where the Fultz family happened to be vacationing for spring break. They decided to check it out and a few weeks later, his oldest son joined the team.
“It was so different from anything I had seen before,” Fultz said. “It was something I could get involved in from a volunteer perspective that was family related and somewhat work related. What has kept me involved is seeing the students develop from year to year. You see the quiet, shy freshman that doesn’t say much. By the time they’re seniors, they’re standing up and leading discussions, presenting ideas and are really comfortable and confident talking to others about what they’ve done.”
Fultz and his wife, Lisa, have seen that growth in their children. His oldest son, Collin, participated for three years and now works for FIRST; his second son, Matt, for four years; and his daughter, Kelli, for four years.
When Fultz first joined the team, money was tight and space to work was small. Over time, the team built on its successes. When the high school’s shop classes relocated to Central Nine, Cyber Blue took over the shop space for its work area. Membership has grown along with the amount of long-term sponsors.
“The team has great support from the staff and school here,” Fultz said. “The principal was at the state championship. The superintendent comes to our open house. It sends a real positive message to the students.”
The volunteer work Fultz does for the team, he said, is much like the project and program management he does for his full time-job.
“What’s cool to me is how much the FIRST program simulates what goes in in a company that does product development,” he said. “It’s just much more rapid. We get a game the first week of January. We have to figure out the game, prototype, design and build. We have to go and compete. Competing is when you find out how good you were, how smart you were. You get immediate feedback. In about four months, you go through a product level life cycle that in real life can take years. At Rolls Royce, our engine development programs can last 6, 7, 8 9 years before you get to where you have a product going out.”
The skills that the students obtain from FIRST go far beyond engineering and robotics, Fultz said.
“It’s like a business,” he said. “You need people that have interests in a lot of different areas to be successful. We have students that don’t care too much about the robot. We have students that don’t care too much about the documentation that we do. But we have enough students in all of those areas to be successful as a team.”
Many students get involved at the middle school or even elementary school level through FIRST’s youth programs. To remain on the Robotics team, students must meet graduation requirements and grade requirements to travel. To be on the team, students must submit a resume and application each year. Mentors conduct an interview each year.
“It becomes a two-way conversation about how are you doing and how can we help you be successful,” Fultz said. “Those skills help them out. They learn to be part of a team. We have students of different backgrounds, different experience level, different capabilities. They learn to coordinate and communicate with adults and mentors, how to have an intelligent conversation and debate the merits of one idea over another to come up with a solution that’s based on technical capability and not emotion.”
They also learn the value of hard work.
“Putting the work in and making that honest effort to build a robot, make good decisions, have good reporting,” he said. “You do all of those things and you get rewarded for it at competition. The robot performs well. You feel good when you get off the field. There’s a quick, direct correlation between the decisions you made, what you build and how it performs. You also learn you can do all that and still doesn’t work out. Last year, we struggled. We had what we thought was a good design and capable robot but we had some problems with our drive that we fought all season long. We never did get resolved what the issues were. So we weren’t as competitive as we wanted it to be. We didn’t quality for FIRST championship, the first time in awhile we hadn’t gone. It was difficult but it was a good lesson. You have to figure out how to move on and do better next year.”
The game this year, FIRST STEAMWORKS, has teams create alliances to work together in the game. The game’s theme is “from an era in which technology relied on steam power to prepare their airships for the ultimate long distance race.” The robot must score points in various ways, then climb up to the airship.
“Our robot is relatively simple and effective,” Fultz said. “We have a really good driver who is able to get around other robots and things on the field, to score points. We have a group of students that is good at scouting, watching robots and collecting data. So when alliance comes, we have information on who will be good partners. Another strength, we have a group of students who get along well, support each other and work well together.”
In Indiana, the teams compete in divisions consisting of 30 teams. At World, the divisions are 75 teams.
“So it will be more challenging to be one of the top teams to be able to play,” Fultz said. “Our goal will probably be to perform well, to play in eliminations, to get further in the elimination tournament than we’ve been before.”
Robotics with Cyber Blue
Cyber Blue formed a student leadership groups this year, representing the different areas of FIRST Robotics: mechanics, design, manufacturing, scouting, data and planning. Here, those leaders answer questions about the team:
What interested you in FIRST Robotics?
“I would always work on cars with my dad. I was interested in hands on things. Since I joined, I have gotten to work on a lot of bigger machines, that I would have not gotten to work on if I hadn’t joined. We’re in the pits. We have to talk to judges to win awards. There are a lot of things that apply to every day life.” – Olivia Shake, manufacturing and drive sub-team
What skills have you learned from being a part of Cyber Blue?
“I have to program the database. Because of robotics and classes I’ve taken here, I know what I want to do for college now. I am going into computer programming. Being part of scouting is strategy as well. Because of that, I’ve had to work with a lot of people. That’s improved my communications skills with other people. I used to be very shy.” – Logan Kreisher, scouting sub-team
“I work with writing our essays, working on the website. We submit for an award called the Chairman’s Award. You have to do a presentation and essay about your team’s outreach and history. For the past two years, I have worked as a presenter. That has helped me with my public speaking skills. Being on this team has helped me with speaking to other people in general and just forming friendships.” – Katie Boyce, public relations sub-team
“Each year, you have to give them an interview process, actually apply to be on the team and have an interview. That has prepared me to get a job in the near future. Being on the drive team the last four years has also prepared me to act under pressure.” – Gage Barton, manufacturing and drive team
Now that you’ve qualified for the World Championship, what do you look forward to?
“Winning would be nice. Each time you win a competition, you get a blue banner. We have 23 now hanging up. Just doing well or making it to eliminations and winning our division would be awesome.” – Barton
“This environment is so addictive. I’m dreading this last competition. I can’t wait to come back and hopefully mentor in the future. It’s a great thing to be a part of.” – Kreisher
Year of transition
Southport Cyber Cards end its season at FIRST State Championship
It’s been a year of transition for Southport High School FIRST Robotics team, Cyber Cards. Under new leadership with head mentor Mark Snodgrass, the team successfully made it to the state championships and made it through the quarter finals.
“It was a learning year,” Snodgrass said. “I had to learn the ways the team operated. I had to learn the technology. I was really surprised how good our mentor group was and how they worked together so well, how great our seniors were and how great they worked together.”
Snodgrass is no stranger to robotics. He first got into FIRST through its Lego League for elementary school students in the Center Grove School Corporation.
“As soon as I saw those kids, their happiness level when they said ‘I made this,’ to me that’s what learning should be,” he said. “It’s about kids being excited, inquiry-based learning.”
He mentored at the FIRST Lego League for more than 10 years before going into FIRST Robitics at the high school level at Center Grove. He made the move after learning the team needed a mentor for the program who was a teacher for the school system.
After a couple of years at Center Grove, Coach Campbell at Greenwood Community High School reached out to Snodgrass to inquire about starting a First Tech team, grades 7 to 12, for Greenwood.
After getting out of the robotics world, Snodgrass said he was looking for another coaching oportunity.
“Lo and behold, Southport popped up,” he said. He now teaches engineering classes at Southport High School, while acting as head mentor for the Cyber Cards after school.
“I was pretty proud of them,” Snodgrass said. “They did a pretty good job this year. Especially the seniors. The mentor they had for several years moved to a different school. It’s hard to transition. When a new guy comes in it is sometimes hard for those kids to figure out what to do now. I let the kids do as much as they could. I think they got a pretty good understanding of how to redesign, to make sure our final product was going to be successful. Next year we will continue to grow on the successes that we had this year.
It’s not the end for the Cyber Cards. The team gets together year-round and has a full schedule of events for community outreach posted at southportrobotics.org/.