Eight high school robotics teams mentored by engineers at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) competed March 31st to April 1st at the Mount Olive High School in some friendly robot basketball.

The teams participated in a competition called "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" (FIRST), which challenges student teams to design, build and compete against one another with a remote-controlled robot capable of picking up and shooting basketballs.

ARDEC supported teams with funding, providing mentors from its engineering staff, or both.
Mentors assisted each team in designing, developing, building, testing and eventually competing in robotics tournaments against their peers from other high schools, said Shahram Dabiri of the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium STEM Outreach Office.

The ARDEC mentors and teams were:

- Chandrark Patel mentored Montgomery Township High School

- Daniel Steinmark mentored Mount Olive High School

- Shahram Dabiri mentored Newton High School and Roxbury High School

- James Reinhold and Luvera "John" Giovanni mentored Pope John XXIII High School

- James Giacchi mentored Watchung Hills High School

- Edwin Rosario mentored Ewing High School and Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf

Competitors were also judged on the ability to work with other teams. Each team had to work with two other teams' robots during a round-robin series of face-offs.

Some teaming also took place before the competition, said Dabiri.

During the robotics build phase, the mentors met regularly for lunch to discuss issues and strategies and to rally behind struggling teams.

Dabiri, James Giacchi, John Luvera, Chandrak Patel, Edwin Rossario and Dan Steinmark were regular participants in the mentoring discussions.

The mentors discussed previous year's efforts, successes, current challenges and better ways to reach out to students.

"We discussed engineering challenges, and how to help students utilize their talents and manage their time accordingly to field functional robots by not over-stretching their designs," said Dabiri.

"If one team was falling behind or had issues they could rely on other ARDEC-supported teams for support, insight and in many cases parts," Dabiri continued.

Rookie team Roxbury High School benefitted from the push by the mentors' group to rise to the level of the competition.

More experienced teams at Watchung Hills, Newton and Mt. Olive became "partners" in helping the new seven-student team get out of the gates, explained Dabiri.

"If it wasn't for this level of communication, trust and community, Roxbury High School would not have been able to field a functional robot," Dabiri explained.


The eight ARDEC-supported teams competing at Mt. Olive were Immaculata, Jefferson Township, Montgomery Township, Mt. Olive, Newton, Pope John, Roxbury and Watchung Hills.

The DOTCSTEM office is looking for additional mentors to work with teams in the Islen, Jefferson, Newton, Scotch Plains and Sparta areas.

Contact Shahram Dabiri.