A Columbus-based high school robotics team is having its best competition season in its four years of existence due in large part to the learning experiences of team veterans, members and mentors said.

High school team No. 4926, also known as GalacTech, competes in the FIRST program and won its first competition of the year March 4 at the Tippecanoe District event in Lafayette.

“Our performance has nearly guaranteed us a spot at the state championship April 6 to 8,” said Rick Lewis, a Cummins Inc. design engineer and primary design mentor for GalacTech.

FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on getting students involved and inspired in science and similar fields. It was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway.

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Indiana FIRST, the Indiana-based affiliate, brought FIRST programs to schools throughout the state.

GalacTech has 38 team members from North, East and Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech high schools.

It has overcome its fair share of failures since the team started, said Reed Nowling, a Columbus East senior and design team leader. Those failures have allowed returning team members to learn and improve their strategies this year.

“We have had a rough time the past four years and I think that’s why we are a lot better this year. Last year we were doing better (than the year before) and this year is a culmination of all three (previous) years we have been here,” Aaron Brown, CSA-New Tech senior and programming electrical team leader, said. “It’s a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.”

Specific improvements include communication between team members, general knowledge of building and design aspects, and what works best in the competition, team members said.

The first robot the team built broke a lot and the one after that was stronger and didn’t break, but was not designed well for the game, Nowling said. Last year, the robot ran into problems during competition, he added.

The robot is better this year, said Rachel Webb, GalacTech business mentor. It is able to climb a rope, which is necessary for the end of the competition.

GalacTech competed at a second district event this past weekend at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis. Going into the second competition the team was ranked 11th out of 48 in the state, with room to improve, Nowling said. The district competition was a qualifying event for the state event.

Regardless of whether GalacTech qualified for state, the team will be heading to the FIRST world championship April 26 to 29 in St. Louis, Missouri, where teams from around the world will compete against one another. That is, as long as the team can raise enough funding to go.

A total of $25,000 needs to be raised within the next few weeks to cover costs for both the state competition in Huntington and the world championship in St. Louis, Webb said. Registration alone will cost $9,000. The rest of the money needed is for robot parts and travel costs. There is no cost to be a part of the team.

“I am totally confident that we are going to be able to do it,” Webb said. “We rely all on volunteers and donations, including finding parents to drive and carpool. We are completely volunteer driven.”

The work will not stop at the end of competition season in April. GalacTech plans to run several clinics during the summer covering everything from programming to design and drafting, and will schedule multiple community outreach events, Lewis said.

After spending several years with the team and honing their skills, many seniors plan to pursue degrees in engineering fields.

Nowling said he will study aerospace engineering, but has not decided at which college.

Brown plans to seek his degree in computer science, a field he had no interest in prior to joining GalacTech his freshman year of high school, but has grown to love. His college choice is undetermined.

Anay Gangal, a Columbus North senior and design team member, has been accepted at Purdue University where he intends to study mechanical or aerospace engineering.

How to help

Those interested in donating to GalacTech to help the team with its competition expenses can do so online at: team4926.org and clicking on the “Donate with Paypal” button. Donations are tax deductible.

You can also visit the Paypal site directly at paypal.me/columbusrobotics4926.

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.