Two faculty members from the Department of Mathematical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences and two alumni from the College of Engineering mentored a robotics team based in Wilmington, Delaware, that made it all
the way to a national competition.
The organization For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology
(FIRST), which encourages students in kindergarten through 12th grade to explore and
pursue STEM fields, holds the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) each
year. The competition asks high school students to design, build, power and program
robots to compete in a game that is released each January.
The Miracle Workerz are an FRC team based in Wilmington that commonly goes by MOE—short for Miracles of Engineering, a tribute to their founding sponsor, DuPont—and consists of
about 40 students from various local high schools. Mentors include Lou Rossi, professor and chair of UD's Department of Mathematical Sciences; Suzanne Burcat, an adjunct
instructor in the department; Christy Bugher,
who received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from UD in 2016 and is now working on her master’s degree; and Brigid
Deely, who also received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2016
and works for Pennoni Associates Inc.
The Miracle Workerz team was founded in 1999 and has had some great
successes, including winning the Championship Chairman’s Award in
2007, but 2019 started out rocky. In their first district competition,
held March 8-10, the team lost in the quarterfinals and ranked 14th
out of 32 teams. However, in the second district competition, held
March 22-24, the team turned things around and brought up their
ranking to No. 1 out of 35 teams.
In the Mid-Atlantic District Championship, April 4-6, the team finished ninth out of 60—a performance that qualified them
for the worldwide FIRST Championship, which was held in Detroit,
Michigan, from April 24-27.
Robotics programs help kids learn engineering and computer
programming, gain confidence in their problem-solving skills and enhance their
interest in engineering careers, research suggests.
For the FIRST competition, students learn mechanics, programming,
construction, how to use engineering software such as SolidWorks and how to adapt and learn new skills.
Bugher didn’t have a lot of exposure to engineering and the
opportunities it provides when she was in high school, she said. She wants to
inspire young students, especially young women, who are underrepresented
in engineering, to pursue the field.
“I think it’s beneficial for students to see that, as a young
engineer, I show up each day willing to work and willing to learn,” she said. “In addition, as a female in an industry historically dominated
by men, it’s important for all students to see women working and
pursuing advanced degrees in engineering and STEM.”