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U-Robot? Community team building on first-year success

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FIRST Robotics is considered the varsity sport of the mind — except in this competition, all participants have a chance to go pro.

“There’s a job for everyone,” said Sam Geckler, an engineer at Cummins who launched the local robotics team last year to help address the engineering skills gap.

GalacTech, also known as Team 4926, is recruiting for more students to join the activity — and later, in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

There will be a callout meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Columbus Learning Center for all students entering Grades 9 to 12 at any area high school.

Aspects include robotics, marketing, programming, building, designing, graphic design, computer-aided design, 3D printing, fundraising, nonprofit management, business and leadership.

“They only need to be curious and interested,” Geckler said.

The team is organized around the FIRST Robotics competition, which challenges groups of students to raise funds, design a team identity and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks.

The team needs engineers but also individuals to help out with the branding and business operations.

The competition task — which could be building a robot to throw a Frisbee, a basketball or a tennis ball — is announced the first Saturday in January, and teams have six weeks to build their project.

It’s a yearlong commitment, but some weeks are busier than others. During the winter building season, students put in about 20 hours a week.

All systems go

WHAT: GalacTech callout meeting

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. today

WHERE: Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave., Columbus

MORE INFO: GalacTech is the local team participating in the FIRST Robotics competition. It is a yearlong commitment that emphasizes teamwork and critical thinking.

Other times, such as fall and spring, the team will meet one or two nights a week.

In its first year, the team won a 3D printer through an America Makes competition. The team also received the Rookie Inspiration Award at the 2014 Crossroads Regional event.

The team finished its first year seeded 37th of 45, meaning GalacTech beat out eight experienced teams.

Geckler hopes the program continues to grow in Bartholomew County. About 20 participated last year, and he hopes to have so many students join that they will need to split into two teams.

But first, GalacTech needs a new home.

The program has been bouncing around from classrooms in local high schools and vacant properties near the airport.

“We’re looking for someone that shares our passion for making sure students have an opportunity to work on these types of things,” Geckler said.

He knows the team is asking for a lot — 2,000 square feet of space that would include shop space for building and office space for business activities — but he hopes to find a community sponsor.

The team has a loose partnership with Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., but Geckler said the program is really founded by community-based mentors who see the need for more engaging science education.

“We are born with a scientific mind. We’re born experimenting,” he said.

So far, FIRST Robotics has been successful in reigniting an interest.

Sarah Brown, a freshman at Columbus North High School, said the team has reinforced her plans to go to college for engineering.

Rick Lewis, a design engineer at Cummins, participated in FIRST when he was in high school. He said the program was what made him an engineer, and he’s now helping out GalacTech because of it.

“This program gives students an outlet where they can continue to be curious about our world and how it works and what kind of an impact they can have on it,” Geckler said.

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