First Robotics Connects High School Students with College and Industry

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Windsor Essex has an international reputation for excellence in automotive manufacturing. According to Stats Canada, this region is home to a quarter of North America’s tool, die and mouldmaking industry and accounts for 80 per cent of the sector in Canada. In the past year companies have been on hiring sprees, having difficulty finding the highly trained people they need to fill well paying jobs. So it is no surprise that St. Clair College, in partnership with industry, is trying to attract and entice young people to get the education required to fill these important careers.

In the past three to four years, one particular activity seems to have taken hold and captured the attention of high school students. FIRST Robotics, which introduces students to engineering, technology, innovation and creativity is an event that has been called the Olympics of technology.

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Until 2012, there was only one high school team involved in FIRST Robotics – the Sabre Bytes at Sandwich

Secondary High School. Lee Awad Technical Teacher and the teams coach and cheerleader has been a part of the team from day one. “I have seen the way this program has changed student’s lives for the better. It is the perfect mix of theory and application and this is how young people learn best. It is teaching perfected.”

The College has played an active role in the growth of FIRST Robotics teams in the area, which now numbers eighteen high schools in Windsor-Essex and Chatham. In fact, the Chatham robotics team called CK Cyberpack has its home base at St. Clair’s Chatham campus. The team is comprised of students from many high schools in the community and they use the College’s facilities to meet and build and test their robot before competition. The community at large has also supported and embraced this team with financial and technical support from business and industry.

At each of the past three annual Windsor-Essex Great Lakes FIRST Robotics events, the college has also supplied a large machine shop, a necessity during competition. And numerous staff and faculty get involved to mentor teams and provide technical support.

The College not only provides financial support to every high school team in the region, St. Clair was also the first to offer $1,000 scholarships to any student who competes in the FIRST competition.
Darryl Danelon, Chair of the Faculty of Engineering Technology, sits on the Board of the WE Great Lakes committee and is a strong supporter of engaging students in innovative ways. “FIRST Robotics is one of the few programs that effectively helps address the continuing paradox of attracting students into the high-tech jobs of the future,” says Danelon. “By turning STEM into a full professional sports-like competition and spectacle, FIRST has developed a perfect formula that inspires and motivates students’ participation and success.”