I joined Branham Robotics in the VEX competition at a branch of the Google headquarters this past week to see what all the buzz surrounding the club was really about. Their day started early; 7 o’clock in the morning, they were already in Branham’s engineering room, and every member was busy fixing, assembling, and in some cases zip-tieing their robots in what looked like an orchestra of mechanical parts. Soon after we arrived at the Google VEX wing greeted by a bustling crowd of competitors where the bionic Bruins hunkered down on the side of the room.
Being new to the robotics competitive atmosphere I was surprised to feel that same anxiousness you get before a sporting event where the air is thick with competitive spirit and the audience is that right amount of tense that pushes the competitors to be at that level of focus that can only be found on game day. I asked Max Chekonovsky, a builder on one of the freshman teams, about what it’s like in sticky situations during competitions like this one, and he said, “There is no absolute plan that you can make so you just need to make sure you have all the parts to repair the broken ones or replace, and just do whatever you can to keep your robot alive throughout the day, […] if something breaks and you need to be queued up in the next two minutes, everyone is surrounding the robot trying to unscrew something-screw it back in […] it’s definitely a job that requires you to work fast and smart.”
This whole event got me thinking about the future of STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Mathematics) at Branham. Over the past four years it seems that more and more money from the district is seeping into funding the STEM department with grants for VEX kits, 3D printers, and new engineering classes. Because of the influx of STEM-related coursework, many students interested in the field are getting an advantage in the workforce because Branham’s location in the Silicon Valley allows for connections with Google, Xilinx, Facebook, and many others. I asked Mrs. Schremp, the teacher for Branham’s Digital Electronics and Intro to Engineering, to weigh in on the the topic, “Closest thing we have to a class would be the Principles of Engineering (POE) class, what’s probably gonna happen, is students with stronger skills we’ll differentiate the class a bit more and the robotics unit will just be a little bit more advanced than it has been but in terms of having a separate class it’s probably not anywhere in the near future, but we do see that the overall STEM focus at Branham is increasing and that’s kind of the mission of the club-to get students excited about science and math classes.”
Alternatively, senior Robotics Club president Noa Nakao has found use in STEM that extends beyond the science and tech atmosphere and will be utilizing her four years of club leadership to leverage her prospective career in management, she said, “I’m really into organizing people and making sure things get done on time, that’s the route I want to take with my career.” Noa also has high hopes for club growth and this year’s freshman team saying, “Last year, we had two teams. This year, we have five, and even our freshman kids are doing really well. They’re actually getting into the finals and they are doing better as freshmen than how we were doing our first year.”
The commitment these students had in the club was really reflected in the effort each of them put into building each and everyday, despite having hard class scheduling. Phillip Schremp, a head builder on the junior team, stated, “We meet everyday for a couple hours, making sure we have everything down and usually it [the robot] breaks so we have to fix it and design something else to make it work. On Friday, those are the most crazy days. We stay until eight or nine until the robot is done and then we go home, get up at six and then come back and finish the robot before the competition.”