UTA dean wants robotics competition to encourage students
By Erik Velasquez
Arlington, Texas– A robotics competition at UT Arlington March 16 will feature robots playing tic-tac-toe.
Schools from across Texas send their teams to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge Southwest Championship. This year’s challenge will consist of the teams’ robots placing blue and red rings inside designated pegs. Teams earn points for each ring placed on a peg and bonus points for each line of pegs filled. UTA event staff wants the competition to encourage students to pursue careers in engineering. FIRST is a non-profit organization, which allows students to compete in head-to-head competitions.
Engineering sophmore Hannah Vuppula attended the FIRST Tech Challenge last year. She was impressed with the organization of the event and the competiveness of the matches.Vuppula liked how so many UTA students volunteer with the event.
“Everyone was in the spirit,” Vuppula said when asked about the competitors. “Everyone is just concetrated on winning, and they didn’t care about anything else.”
The First Tech Challenge competition organizers focus on finding a way to make it less expensive and more accessible for schools. Those efforts have allowed more schools to compete in robotics competitions. Tiernan spoke about how important it is to get students involved in science, technology, engineering and math also referred to as STEM.
“The thing about FRC [FIRST Robotic Competition] is that it is quite expensive,” said J. Carter Tiernan, assistant dean for Student Affairs. “It is thousands of dollars to compete each year.”
Most schools spent $25,000 to $30,000 to participate in FRC. Those prices limited schools with fewer resources the abiltiy to participate in events.
“If a kid gets excited about engineering and then goes to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] instead of UTA,” Tiernan said. “I think that’s still a win for me.”
Three years ago, Kale Westover, a senior from Altus High School in Atlus, Okla., competed in FTC at UTA. He was the team captain for the winning team, the Longshots. The Longshots headed to the world championship and placed 25th out of 100 teams.
“It really gave me a basic idea of programming and everything else,” Westover said. “The competition got me started in what I’m in now.”
Westover did not attend UTA, but he is now a flight technician simulator for the Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma.
“I encourage all UTA engineering students to volunteer in this year’s event,” Tiernan said.