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UMD Mentors PG Students to Robotics Championship Shot

April 5, 2013
Contacts: 

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A group of University of Maryland undergraduates in the A. James Clark School of Engineering have helped mentor a local student robotics team to a top three finish in the recent Washington, D.C., Regional FIRST Robotics Competition and a chance to compete in the championship competition in St. Louis.

Six of the ten UMD undergraduates who mentored Team Illusion join the students as the celebrate their accomplishments at the FIRST Robotics Competition: Kanay Patel (mechanical engineering), Nitay Ravin (sophomore, electrical engineering), Eli Barnett (junior, physics), Ori Perl (sophomore, mechanical engineering), Yalun "Allen" Wu (junior, electrical engineering) and Mark Hoppel (freshman, mechanical engineering).

The UMD students are part of the Mentors Advancing STEM Education (MASE) group. MASE was formed in October 2012 by a group of Clark School undergraduate students to support and mentor K-12 students in engineering-related activities, including robotics. MASE now includes 26 UMD students, and is advised by Betsy Mendelsohn, director of the Science, Technology and Society program within UMD's College Park Scholars academic residential community program.

"College students benefit from mentoring children and teens in robotics," says Mendelsohn. "They get to integrate and implement many of the skills we require in different courses, like planning, public speaking, group facilitation and being resourceful. They also feel good, since the children's appreciation validates their own skills and engagement in engineering."

Team Illusion 4464, comprised of middle and high school students from Prince George's County, Md., was one of only three teams out of 58 participating in the D.C. regional competition selected to advance to the FIRST Championship Competition. Team Illusion also earned the Rookie All Star Award in recognition of the team's success in its first year competing.

"We guide the students to practical ideas and help them turn the images in their minds into an actual robot they can compete with," says Kanay Patel of MASE, a mechanical engineering student who participated in a FIRST Robotics team when he attended Cherokee High School in Marlton, N.J., before he came to UMD. "Seeing the glow in each student's eyes when everything comes together at the end of the build season is the most satisfying part. They see the masterpiece they all have worked so hard to put together finally do what it was designed to do. The sense of pride the students have for their robot and the unity the team has by the end of the build season is incredible."

UMD's Maryland Robotics Center, directed by Associate Professor Nuno Martins (Electrical and Computer Engineering and Institute for Systems Research), has also played a key role connecting Team Illusion and other local FIRST Robotics clubs and teams with UMD students and resources.

A highlight of this support was opening their weekly seminar on March 8 to a presentation by three FIRST Robotics Competition teams from Maryland, led by FIRST Director for Maryland Bill Duncan. Martins also has arranged for FIRST members to participate in an all-day workshop about robotics at the American Control Conference in Washington, D.C., this June. UMD may also be eligible to host the Maryland Regional FIRST Competition, beginning in 2014 at the Comcast Center.