Granada Hills Charter High School (GHC) is providing opportunities for high school students to enter growing STEM career fields. The school’s robotics team, Robodox (“robot doctors”), provides training in engineering, hands-on robotics, but also in leadership and life skills.
Leadership of Robodox is supported by the teaching and administrative staff, but lies primarily in the hands of the students. An Executive Committee is established that leads the team with a president role, a treasury function, event coordination, community outreach, and even a travel planning function for out-of-area competitions.
Teams average about 40 students a year, with each team consisting of a VEX Robotics division and FIRST Robotics division. The VEX team builds a smaller robot from a kit, while the FIRST team builds from scratch, utilizing available parts and scrap aluminum. The teams build from two to three robots a year. Student learning is entirely hands-on, with teams learning tool machining, manufacturing, programming, electrical engineering, and CAD drawing.
There are about six competitions each year, with the largest being the FIRST Championships. Over 3,000 teams compete in this event, held over a period of three days, with this year’s competition held in Houston, Texas. To compete in national robotics competitions, teams are given six weeks to build a robot, addressing a specific assigned game concept. The competitions teach students the usual technical skills in building the right kind of robot to win the game, but also skills in team-building, research, and competitive analysis. Needless to say, each team shows up with their best foot forward for the competition.
Robodox has established a tradition of providing a “first aid kit” at the competitions, for teams whose robots experience accidents along the way. They are the only team that provides this service, giving them the added opportunity to collaborate and network with students from other schools and teams. They also have a tradition of naming each robot after a medical discipline. This year’s robot is Emma, the Embryologist.
Michael and Neha are this year’s co-presidents of Robodox. Both seniors at GHC, they entered Robodox as freshmen. Their hands-on learning has given them valuable experience in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering. One of the benefits of the program is the exposure students receive in multiple STEM disciplines, giving them a clearer understanding of career options and what path they might choose to take and environments they’d like to work in. Michael envisions a future in civil engineering, working in a traditional engineering environment with an established company. Neha enjoys electrical engineering, and sees herself working in a fast-paced startup environment. Their two differing perspectives and approaches to work have given this year’s Robodox team a balanced and well-rounded perspective.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the team’s classroom instructor, is a strong believer in the advantages of Career Technical Education (CTE). Formerly with Raytheon, and now pursuing CTE certification, he has helped students learn engineering basics and apply them in the robotics competitions. He sees one of the core advantages of their program in introducing students to careers in STEM, so they can be better informed when choosing educational and career paths. Nearly 100% of Robodox students go on to engineering school. This approach has definitely worked for Neha and Michael – giving them a wealth of information to help direct their futures.
Through Robodox, GHC is helping students advance into STEM careers, providing practical application and insight into the growing industries in LA County.