Students Volunteer for the FIRST LEGO League Competition

Robotics Competition Offers Mentorship, Fun, and Excitement

Contrary to how it may sound, this was not the first time around the block for the recent Hudson Valley FIRST LEGO League Competition. In fact, FIRST is an acronym meaning “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” and the name of an international youth organization that holds hundreds of competitions like this one. In February, Marist computer science students helped out at the local event.

Marist FIRST LEGO League

Chronologically, the“first” competition actually took place in 1989 when Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, founded the organization. Hundreds of Kamen’s robotics tournaments have since spread across the world and reached about 60 different countries. In 2007, Marist Computer Science Professor, Casimer DeCusatis, brought the LEGO League to the Hudson Valley and encourages his students to volunteer at competitions.

“I think it gives the students a chance to get some experience as volunteers, giving back to the community,” Professor DeCusatis said of the students from the Marist Computer Club and IEEE Student Chapter that get involved. “They are working with other students to get them involved in technology.”

Marist volunteers help throughout the day by acting as referees for the robotics competition, judges of the student products and general facilitators, making sure everything runs smoothly. When they are not taking on one of these roles, students get the opportunity to mingle with other industry professionals. Representatives from tech companies like Google and IBM also attend the competition and offer an additional draw for computer science students looking to network.

Volunteers also gain a valuable experience in mentoring young students of computer science. The real stars of the competition are not college students, but those from elementary and middle school, between the ages of 6 and 14, that actually compete in the tournament. Some begin constructing their LEGO-made projects as early as last summer and participate in the process until the championships in February. “They can effectively be working on this thing almost all year round,” said DeCusatis. 
Marist FIRST LEGO League

Beginning in December, the LEGO League typically holds tournaments on Saturdays, commencing early in the morning and running through the afternoon. After the opening ceremonies, participating students must compete in four different rounds that will measure and score their projects.

In the first section, students take their robots through an obstacle course and have them complete challenges. Second, the judges look at hardware and design and then third, present a research project in relation to a specific theme of the day. Then the last round is entitled “core values,” where judges score the students based on standards of professionalism and teamwork throughout their projects.

At the end of the day, the young tech students have hopefully gained a grasp of these principles of operation and feel encouraged by the extensive work they have put into these projects. After tallying up all of the scores, the final awards ceremony gives out awards to every entry and additional trophies in each of the four areas. The top teams qualify for the next round of the competition and eventually go on to the championship, which took place in February.

Marist FIRST LEGO League

In founding FIRST, Kamen’s original goal was to demonstrate fun and excitement elements within the field of science and engineering. Marist computer science students, led by Professor DeCusatis, continue this mission in their work at the Hudson Valley FIRST LEGO League Competition.

“Quite frankly I think the tournaments are a lot of fun,” said Professor DeCusatis. “Everyone gets excited, cheers for their favorite team and we have free food.”

In accordance with Kamen’s nation-wide concept, the Hudson Valley branch continues to grow on a much smaller scale. Every year, the program tries to include a greater number of students, expanding their tournament sizes and holding more events. As the Hudson Valley FIRST LEGO League gets bigger and bigger, Marist involvement will remain steady as computer science students continue to participate.

Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18

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