CSM’s Robotics Competitions Feed Pipeline to STEM Careers

CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried

High Schoolers, Middle, Elementary Students Advance to States, Nationals

The road to Atlanta and robotics worldwide championship gold is paved with nuts, bolts, gears, PVC pipe and, surprisingly, rip ties. The top performing team in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Maryland Championship at the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata Campus Dec. 5 created a robot with all those components, plus blow-the-competition-out-of-the water programming and strategy.

CSM had two competitions going on simultaneously on Dec. 5: the FTC for high-school-aged students, and FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Southern Maryland Qualifier for elementary and middle school students who are just beginning to learn programming languages, design and engineering concepts, and game strategies. They are part of CSM’s ongoing efforts to spur interest among youth to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

“STEM at CSM is one of our most intensive initiatives,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried. “From summer robotics and rocket building camps offered by Kids College, to ‘Try College for a Day’ fifth-grade field trips with non-stop hands-on science activities, to high school robotics competitions, CSM is providing opportunities for Southern Maryland students to explore science fields.”

Last fall, CSM in partnership with the Navy at Pax River, the University of Maryland and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, began offering an engineering program degree program that will not require students to travel outside of Southern Maryland. “This fall, the enrollment in the introductory class itself offered here at CSM grew by nearly 400 percent,” said Gottfried, “And we added sections to accommodate the 58 students enrolled in this engineering class. Overall, our engineering program has doubled in the number of students now pursuing degrees.”

“CSM has been hosting robotics competitions since 2006 as a way to generate excitement in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] fields—and it is working,” said CSM Chair of the Business and Technology Division Jeff Tjiputra, who coordinates CSM’s robotics competitions.

 “We see the FIRST robotics competitions as vital to getting the word out to students that engineering is fun,” said Tjiputra.

In hosting the robotics challenges, CSM is providing opportunities for Southern Maryland students to enter the engineering training pipeline that could one day lead to an aeronautical or mechanical engineering degree and employment at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

 “Many of you will get into science, technology, engineering and math careers because of experiences like this one today,” Gottfried told students prior to the start of the Dec. 5 competition.

G-Force from McHenry in western Maryland, comprised of Garrett County 4-H members, was the ‘force’ to be reckoned with as they handily outshot their competition. They will be returning to Atlanta in April, having earned a second-place trophy in the FIRST World Championship last year.

Southern Maryland FTC teams representing the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technical Center in Leonardtown, King’s Christian Academy in Callaway and a homeschool group in Hollywood played the game ‘HotShot’ where teams had to program their robot to release Wiffle-sized balls from a chute, scoop them up and shoot them into goals within and outside of a 12-foot-by-12-foot arena. The teams were paired up in alliances working offensively and defensively to outscore the opposing alliance. The Spangler family’s homeschool team ‘Under the Son,’ in rainbow tie-dyed T-shirts, was in the finalist alliance and as such is an alternate for the World Championship.

Eleven FLL teams, representing Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, played the game ‘Smart Move’ where pre-programmed robots moved through an obstacle course laden with real-world transportation issues such as road conditions, work zones and hazards. Robots were scored for avoiding crashes, surviving crash impact and passenger (i.e. LEGO people) safety. Six of the teams, Father Andrew White School in Leonardtown, Kings Christian Academy in Callaway, Charles County 4-H Club in Indian Head and unaffiliated teams from Prince Frederick, Owings and Indian Head, will advance to the Maryland State FLL Championships at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in January.

For information on CSM’s ISTEM programs, visit www.csmd.edu/istem.

            For photos of FTC and FLL award winners, visit http://www.csmd.edu/News/MediaResources/09DecRobotics.html





2009 FIRST Lego League Awards


FIRST Lego League (FLL) Champion’s Award

Hearty Truckers, Father Andrew White School, Leonardtown

Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

The Champion’s Award is the most prestigious award that any team can win. It celebrates the ultimate success of the FIRST mission and FIRST Lego League (FLL) values. It measures how the team members inspire and motivate others about the excitement of science and technology, solve problems and demonstrate respect and gracious professionalism.


Robot Performance Awards

Hearty Truckers, Father Andrew White School, Leonardtown—First Place

Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

After a full day of competition, this team had the highest score.


Engineers, Indian Head—Second Place

Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

After a full day of competition, this team had the second highest score.


Judges’ Award


Kings Christian Academy, Callaway

Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

This team epitomizes the FLL core values: work together as a team, honor the spirit of friendly competition, display gracious professionalism—and have fun doing it. This team demonstrated an overall kindness and acceptance of its own team members and a polite and friendly manner with others. They were observed as “the team” demonstrating FLL core values.


Project Award

Telepathic Turtles

Prince Frederick

Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

This award is presented to the team whose creative presentation began with a duel. Well composed research records included remarks from “scientists who speak big words.” Their innovative solutions used area observations with a hands-on traffic study to increase sidewalk capacity.

Robot Design Award



Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

Judges looked for a team whose work stood out and made them say, “WOW!” The judges interviewed teams to learn their strategies for solving missions and explored their understanding of the design process. They also evaluated the robot’s mechanical design, degree of innovation, and programming effectiveness to further assess overall quality design. This team tried several drive mechanisms before settling on the winning design. They utilized many attachments to solve various mission challenges. They showed advanced problem solving skills, they were cooperative, enthusiastic and very polite.


Teamwork Award

Kidz 4 Change 4-H Club

Charles County 4-H Club, Indian Head

Advances to Maryland FLL Championship at Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County

This award is presented to the team that showed the greatest display of teamwork during the team interview. This team was able to display a clear understanding of what it means to come together for a common purpose, displaying great leadership, gracious professionalism, confidence and a thorough understanding of the core values that the FIRST Lego League brings. Their enthusiasm and excitement towards the possibility of pursuing a career in science and technology is truly inspiring, and was the final determining factor in presenting them with the Teamwork Award.


Research Quality Award

Hearty Truckers

Father Andrew White School, Leonardtown

This group took on a major safety issue. After examining the problem in-depth, this team offered a significant, patent-quality idea–the Life Ring–an instrumented steering wheel designed to keep truckers from falling asleep and from driving excessive hours. The judges were impressed by this group’s passion, insights into the problem and innovative solutions to a real-world problem.


Robot Programming Award

The Rockets

Indian Head

This award celebrates a team that understands outstanding programming principles, including developing clear, concise, efficient and reusable code that allows their robot to perform challenge tasks autonomously and repeatedly. Teams winning this award have demonstrated programming mastery. The Rockets’ program was well organized with several team members contributing to the development effort. Each member of the programming team could explain code with all the team members able to explain relationship between their design and programming strategy. Programs reflected detailed analysis of missions as well as the use of appropriate conditions and loops. In addition, the team’s programs reflected a variety of error recovery techniques.


Innovative Solution Award

Great Mills

This team's thought provoking solution sought to ease congestion when taking vacations in Ocean City. Their family vacation skit would place a ferry route from Point Lookout to the Eastern Shore. They also investigated tunnels and bridges as options.

Creative Presentation Award



This team's imaginative and empathetic presentation included a field trip where the team demonstrated what it's like to be a disabled person using public transportation. Their props created a city background and their acting portrayed accurately the mobility challenges disabled people face when traveling. Their solution was a universal locking mechanism for wheelchairs on public transit.

Team Spirit Award

Kids 4 Change 4-H J.C. Penney

This award is presented to the team displaying outstanding team spirit and enthusiasm above all other teams in the competition. This team’s ability to motivate and energize, along with their brilliant performance, gave them a unanimous vote from the judges for the Team Spirit Award.


Perseverance Award

Telepathic Turtles

Prince Frederick

This award is presented to the team that exhibited great determination and resiliency in the face of a challenge that could have potentially prevented their attendance at today’s competition. Exhibiting characteristics of strong teamwork and perseverance, this team was able to overcome a great obstacle. A corrupted program file made performing robotic challenges impossible. The team did not give up; instead, they stayed up till the break of dawn completing all the programs necessary for the competition.


Innovative Design

Piccowaxen Panthers

Piccowaxen Middle School, Newburg

This award celebrates teams that best demonstrate the ability to think “out-of-the-box.” Innovation can come in any aspect of robot design—including a distinctive drive system creative programming techniques, a unique attachment or a new and creative game strategy. Judges consider the most original robot design approach to solving the challenge missions. Showing excellent understanding of how the initial location of their robot affected the performance of their robot on the mission, this team implemented a simple, robust design that maximized performance while keeping their design simple.


Quality Design

KCA Eagles

King’s Christian Academy, Callaway

This award is presented to the team that exhibited a pragmatic and effective combination of attachments and maneuvering in the collection of hoops. The consistency of performance earned this team the Quality Design Award.



2009 Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge Awards


Winning Alliance Awards

G-FORCE, Garrett County 4-H Club, McHenry

Tech Brick, Havre de Grace

Both teams advance to World Championships in Atlanta in May



Finalist Awards

Friends School, Friends School of Baltimore, Baltimore

Under the Son, SSI Homeschool, Hollywood

Both teams are entered as alternates to advance to World Championships


Inspire Award

TechBrick, Havre de Grace

The Inspire Award is the highest award given by FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). The winner of the Inspire Award is automatically eligible for advancement to the next tournament level. Winners of the Inspire Award at a Championship Tournament are eligible to compete in the 2009 FTC World Championship in Atlanta. The Inspire Award winner is the ‘prototype’ for what judges like to see all teams achieve as part of the FIRST Tech Challenge. They do many of the things mentioned in the other awards. The difference is that they’ve tied these together in a comprehensive manner resulting in success in the competition, outreach to the community, robot design, team spirit and engineering accomplishment.


This is what the judges said about the winner of the