Isabella forms competitive robotics team

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, August 12, 2009

When you think of a high school competition, robotics normally isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But if you’re going to compete, why not compete in something that will prepare you for the future workforce?

That’s the mindset of Isabella science instructor Jay LeCroy, who is looking for volunteers — and funding — to help kick off the school’s robotics team. About 20 students have already expressed interest in the program.

“This is an educational partnership developing tomorrow’s workforce today,” LeCroy said.

The school is the first in Chilton County to join BEST Robotics, a nationwide non-profit organization designed to get students excited about engineering, science and technology. The acronym stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.

On Sept. 3, the school’s team will head to UAB for the annual kickoff. There, they will receive a kit with materials to build their robot, which must perform an unknown task. They will have 42 days to design and build the robot before returning to the college to compete.

“This is abstract thinking,” LeCroy said. “They’ve got to take a clean sheet of paper, figure out how to make it work, and then make it work. The best one wins. In the real world, the best one gets the money.”

The team will consist of every division one would find in a real-life company — engineering, mechanics, sales and marketing, spirit and sportsmanship, and of course, a CEO. Teachers will function as the board of directors, and mentors will be real engineers who are willing to come in and work with the students.

“I’m looking for anyone locally who has any engineering or sales/marketing background who could come in and mentor the program,” LeCroy said.

Students will also use real-life engineering software to design and build their robot. The 3-dimensional software is called Solid Works.

All participating schools receive an identical kit. Isabella will be competing with the likes of Hoover, the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and Shades Valley Tech.

“This is a huge leap forward for us,” LeCroy said. “There’s no reason our kids can’t do what these kids can do.”

Keela Ray and Marlee Hayes will be the student CEOs. In that role, they will interview team members and manage the program.

“We were already in the Enviro-Bowl science team,” Ray said. “Our favorite subject is science, and to us, it would help us build leadership skills.”

“I think I want to do it to be a challenge — something new,” added Hayes.

LeCroy also wants to partner with UAB and Auburn University to help better prepare students for a technical field when they are ready to enter the workforce.

That’s a major point of the BEST program, to build engineers while students are still in high school so they will understand what it’s like to be in a company and work as a team member.

The school is also starting a new science society, he noted.

“I graduated from here a long time ago, and these are things that I wish we had,” LeCroy said.