What would Rebekah Franklin’s life be like if she hadn’t joined the robotics team?
“Boring. Sad. Probably lonely,” said the Salina Central High School junior. “I’d probably still be eating my lunch in the corner by the trash can. I would probably only still have two friends. And I would probably still be in my shell, like a lot.”
When her brother convinced her to join the robotics team with him two years ago, Franklin said she was a totally different person who didn’t like talking to people. “Before, I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends, because I just didn’t like talking to people,” said Franklin. “But the team’s pretty cool. I have made so many friends.”
Formed in 2009, the Salina Central FIRST Robotics Team 3172 HorsePOWER aims to provide a high-quality, hands-on educational opportunity for students interested in technology. Each year, FIRST Robotics nationally releases a game with a specific set of criteria. Teams across the country then have six weeks to design and build robots according to the challenge that has been presented. Throughout the season, students work with community mentors in the areas of engineering, marketing, business and human services to help them through the process.
When competitions begin, teams are randomly grouped into alliances who must work together to master the game and earn points. “We’ve never met these people before, so we’re just trying to talk to them and get to know them as quick as possible,” said team member Drew Alstatt, who had so much fun his first year on the team that he convinced his two best friends to join.
Since 2011, the community foundation’s L.P. “Pat” Mullen Fund has granted over $38,000 to the program, which provides students with many important skills, according to robotics coach Sheila Shaffer. “If we are going to really educate and set our kids up for the next world, robotics programming and the ability to talk and have conversations is essential,” Shaffer said. “I like seeing the kids grow from their freshman year when they are not really sure of themselves, to their senior year when they are confident in themselves.”
Franklin’s time in robotics has been no different. She’s now the FIRST Robotics Team 3172 club president and a mentor for the new Oakdale Elementary FIRST Lego Robotics Team, which has also received grant support through the Mullen Fund.
Franklin said she never imagined she would enjoy helping the elementary students as much as she did. “I didn’t really like working with kids before, but now I do. It just impacted me a lot,” she said. “It made me happy to see that I could influence little kids to do better. It just made me so happy. I had that ‘proud mom’ moment, you know?”
Franklin isn’t the only team member who has been impacted by her time in the robotics room. Teammate Abigail Henning, who does marketing for the group, said robotics has taught her more about community outreach, helped her stay organized and given her something fun to do. “I joined robotics because a bunch of my friends were in here and it looked like a good opportunity to try something new,” she said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be as social as I am and I wouldn’t have much to do.”
Aryan Kevat, who helps program robots for the team, said he’s learned to communicate better with his teammates. He is considering a future in a coding and programming field. “I’ve learned to work with the team,” he said. “If I were at a job and they were working on something, I would have to plan along with them. I can’t program something until it’s built all the way.”
Time spent with friends on early morning drives to competitions is the best, said Alstatt. “We get more time to bond and talk about robotics stuff,” he said. “We’re just trying to get as many friends of ours to join, because we know it’s fun.”