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BHS students soar in Robotics program

By Terry Hagerty (Special to the BEDC)

Cassie the Robot was built by the Robotics Team for the 2015 "Recycle Rush" Competition.Bastrop High School students were having a blast with “Cassie” during a class day last semester while learning a lot about engineering, mechanics and electrical design. Cassie is actually a robot that the BHS students built under the guidance of teacher Marguerite Shaffer.

The BHS students have competed in robotics competition in San Antonio and Houston this school year under the FIRST program, which stands for: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The mission of FIRST – a non-profit founded in 1989 – is to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills.”

It is a program that BHS students have taken to with great enthusiasm. Sophomore Dakota Migues, who was watching fellow students work with Cassie, said the robotics work was very educational. “It has given me a better look at engineering,” Migues said. “I always thought engineering was a boring thing, but now I really enjoy helping with Robotics and learning.”

Pit Members at the Alamo Regional FRC Competition in San Antonio.

The BearTecs Robotics Team, as they are called, consists of high school students ages 13 to 18, with approximately 20-25 students on the team each year. The team has six weeks to design, build and program a robot to compete in each year’s game, said Jean Riemenschneider, parent of Miller Riemenschneider, a former team member. Miller, who founded the program at BHS, will be a sophomore this fall at Texas A&M University and is continuing his love of science, majoring in computer science engineering at A&M.

BHS team members spend many hours prepping for the competitions. Each year the game is unique and has different robot attributes from previous years. It requires students to be able to work quickly and effectively over a six-week period in order to ready the robot for competition, explained Riemenschneider, who is also a mentor for students.

Rookie Team winning Dallas Regional 2012.

A video that Shaffer played in her classroom for a reporter also showed the fun of the competitions. Students for one particular competition were required to have their robots hoist, then stack containers as quickly as possible on a platform. It was quite fun to watch, so participating in the competition looks to be even more fun, but also adding to knowledge.        

Traveling to competition requires some financial support for the students, who also raise funds on their own. Each year the team and booster club holds fundraisers, events, and grants to raise an average of $35,000. All of the monies raised go directly to the program, Riemenschneider said. The kit of parts to build the robot is $5,000. The average cost per student to participate for the season (two regional competitions) is $800, which includes travel, hotel, and food for meals.                         

Winning the Dallas Regional allowed the robotics team to advance to Worlds competition as a rookie team.

“We are looking for long-term corporate and private sponsors to help support this program. We are also looking for mentors with skills within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries,” Riemenschneider said. 

“The BearTecs are very thankful to our many mentors who spend countless hours with these students, as well as growing with them as a team,” said Riemenschneider. The BHS team has also helped Smithville High School start their own program – TigerTrons, and Bastrop Middle School students to start a First Lego League team.

If you would like information on sponsoring the team, donating or mentoring students, see the Booster Club website at brbc.bastroprobotics.org.