Team ready for first FIRST

DeWayne Bartels
From left, Ben Roos, Alec Garnder and Eric Dietz test out the robot.

There is a robot among the midsts of students at Metamora Township High School.

It is there because for several weeks students from Metamora and Washington Community High School along with adult mentors from throughout the Tri-County Area, including East Peoria have been busy preparing for the FIRST Robotics competition.

The team is named Metamora/Washington Area Robotics aka MARS/WARS.

Raymond L. Tealbey, a business systems analyst in the Dealer Distribution Systems Division at Caterpillar, and a Germantown Hills resident, is an adult mentor.

“My son heard about the program through a classmate and wanted to participate ... after reading the program description and attending the parent introduction meeting, I saw this as a great opportunity to obtain some father and son time, and also participate in an interesting new school program,” Tealbey said.  

“We have a great group. The students involved have been a lot of fun to work with, and I have found all the mentors to be wonderful, interesting people. The process of building something previously unfamiliar to all of us, has produced a close-knit team. The learning opportunities, both for mentors and students alike, has been enjoyable as well.”

Tealbey said the most challenging aspect is the huge time commitment.

“At the end of the day, I believe this reinforces the life lesson for all of us that meaningful achievements only become reality through hard work. I would like to add that we are all very fortunate that our spouses and families are understanding and supportive of the program.”

Tealbey said the most interesting aspect has been the wide variety of expertise among the mentors.  

“Even though many of us had never heard of the FIRST Robotics program, let alone built anything resembling a robot, every mentor has had some previous experience that they were able to contribute and help move the project forward.”  

Tealbey said he has learned some lessons from this activity.         

“One thing I believe we learned early on is that we, as mentors, had to find ways to work better with the students to improve task scheduling and assignments for the group. We are lucky         to have students who are an extremely enthusiastic, hard working group,” he said.

“We have a great group of students.  I am constantly amazed at some of the skill sets that we discover within them.  We have found skills among the student team that span everything from technical writers to welders.  Younger students have been eager to learn as well, and it has been impressive to see them grow technical and mechanical skills where they had little or no prior experience or exposure.”

Jim Dattilo, a mechanical engineer and a product support supervisor at Caterpillar, and Germantown Hills resident is also a mentor.

“My son is involved in FIRST in Iowa as a referee for the competitions in that state. He encouraged me to get involved as mentor,” Dattilo said.

“It is fun working with the students to create something. We need to remember that we are mentors, not team members. Our job is to guide the students not to build the robot. It is hard to be quiet and watch mistakes be made. On the other hand, it is great to see people learn so much by these mistakes. It is gratifying to hear students tell each other that they did not know that they could design and build a part of this robot themselves.”         

Dattilo said he finds the youth impressive.

“They are finding out that they can do more than they realize,” he said.

It is great having a chance to help train the future workforce.  It is gratifying to see their excitement about what they are doing.”

Rachel Noe, 18, a senior at Metamora Township High School, is one of the students working under Tealbey and Dattilo.

“I’m the marketing sub-team lead and member of the design sub-team,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot working on the FIRST team this year and am definitely enjoying it. The most challenging aspect would be trying to learn the PTC Creo Computer Design Program because I hadn’t worked with it before this year.”

John E. Johnson, a project manager at Caterpillar, and East Peoria resident is among the mentors for the program.

“I started as a mentor six years ago at Caterpillar sponsored Team Argos, based at Manual, then was team leader one year; joined Robot Casserole at Richwoods as a mentor, then was team leader there for two years, during which Joe Bachman contacted me, expressing an interest in forming a team at Metamora” Johnson said.

“I invited Joe to join our team last year to learn the ropes, then I turned that team over to another leader and joined Metamora to help Joe get the team started.”

Johnson said working with the students is an immense pleasure.

“Watching them grow in self confidence is extremely rewarding,” Johnson said. “You see a lot of positive change in a short period of time.”

But, Johnson added, it is also challenging working with a novice team to design, build, program and test a 120 pound robot to compete in a specific game in just six weeks.

Johnson said even with his experience he is still learning from the experience.

“Working with the other mentors and students, you learn a lot about teamwork, diversity, respecting other people, the list goes on and on,” he said.

The youth, he said, are very impressive.

“I find them more than impressive, more like inspirational. People who complain about the youth today should spend some time with them; there are some really great kids out there if you take the time to get to know them,” Johnson said.

“For a rookie team, I am very pleased with our progress. We have a functioning, competitive, well designed and built robot. Now we need to choose the drive team and start practicing.”

Johnson added that the experience can benefit students in another way as well.

“There is also about $14 million in scholarships for students in this program, colleges and industry understand the importance of creating a new generation of inventors, scientists, and engineers and highly value this experience.”