Natick High School's RoboNatick teams received the FIRST Technology Challenge's Connect award for their connections with their local community and the engineering community, specifically Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

RoboNatick is competing in FTC's robotics competition, which is made up of teams from around the U.S. that design, build, and program their own robots using engineering principles with assistance from coaches, teachers, mentors and volunteers.

Natick High currently has three teams: 3737, 6032, and 5436, who accepted the FIRST FTC Connect Award on behalf of all the RoboNatick students who have run the successful NSRDEC Land and Sea Robotics Camp along with the Natick Public School System.

"Our main outreach was through the SeaPerch program we do at the Army Labs," said Otto Magee, Natick High senior and captain of team 5436. "We also communicate with the Natick community through (fundraising) events such as Natick Days" and through the team's Facebook page.

Magee was a mentor during the two-week-long SeaPerch program that ran at NSRDEC; he was among a number of high school students who taught middle school children how to build Remotely Operated Vehicles with SeaPerch kits. They also learned how to program Lego robots.

"The students there were really interested in learning more about robotics, and they also had fun throughout the creation of the ROVS," Magee said. "After that section, we went on to NXT Robots and performing tasks with RoboLab programming. It was neat, this section, because we were able to see the young engineers go through the trial-and-error process and figure out what is needed to complete simple tasks autonomously."

Army engineers, civilian employees and Soldiers helped support the camp, which integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, known as STEM.

Rebecca Engle, a STEM coordination assistant at NSRDEC, said the students enjoyed attending the camp and that "a lot of the students have said it's a lot harder than they thought. They have all faced obstacles, but it's great because they're learning a lot of problem-solving skills."

All Natick High School student mentors were volunteers, and robotics teacher/coach Doug Scott said, "They have just as much fun as the kids." Scott also noted that the camp run by NSRDEC involves projects with engineering problems that "present a lot of the concepts involved in engineering." Students get a hands-on approach to learning about STEM.

Magee and fellow peer mentors learned about leadership and management during their time at NSRDEC, similar skills necessary for the students to work together as a RoboNatick team. Besides building and designing their robot, students must manage their team's budget as well as participate in community fundraising.

Magee said that being part of the robotics team "has been a very interesting experience" in which he has gained knowledge using hardware, "from a simple drill to a chopsaw." He learned how to use computer-aided design and realized "being able to model something like a robot in a 3D form is a valuable skill."

"Now, in my final year of robotics, I've developed my most useful skills, and those are skills in leadership and organization," Magee said. "There have been times where I've been under pressure, and there have been times when I've made mistakes as a captain, but all of my mistakes now help me become a better leader later on. This teaches me as a captain what leadership and management jobs may be like in the real job world."

All of the RoboNatick teams continue to compete in FTC this year. The teams hope to continue providing community outreach, especially in conjunction with NSRDEC.

"As we do every year, we wish to continue giving back through the SeaPerch program," Magee said, "so that we can encourage younger minds into pursuing engineering and wondering how a simple machine can be made to do wondrous things."