The buzz of activity in classrooms on the southside of the Southport High School building is unmistakable.
High school students in a large room work on various CAD designs while they consult with other students, their coaches, and mentors for ideas. They are among all robotics teams in the state who are designing and building robots for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competitions.
The CyberCards get tips on design and builds from an adjacent room, students are busily looking over design printouts, cutting and fashioning pieces and wiring, and building a robot.
The rooms are the home of the CyberCards, the FIRST robotics team, at the high school and one of three teams on the Southside, including CyberBlue at Perry Meridian and Red Alert at Center Grove. Each of the teams has had successes in FIRST competitions.
On this particular evening, Southport assistant robotics coach Jason Germann reviews the design protocol with CAD sub-team leader Jay Johnson. Students in the adjacent build room are active under SHS teacher Anthony Stanich.
Twenty-five young CyberCards members with only one senior work together - the robotics program is the epitome of teamwork.
Overall, they design, build and program a robot for competition, apply real math and science concepts, develop problem-solving and organizational skills, and not only compete against other teams but form alliances with other teams in FIRST competitions.
Their enthusiasm is undeniable.
“Robotics has fueled my passion to be around like-minded people,” said sophomore Katie Essex. “Also to experience what I’ve never experienced before, seeing all the different robots and people working through problems for a common goal is something that is super-interesting.”
Essex was on the student council when programming teacher and robotics program director Mike Snodgrass presented a Mini-Movers program to provide a modified ride-on car for a physically disabled Perry pre-school student to move around independently.
She wound up supervising the project, one of many that is part of the CyberCards community outreach program, that has been expanded to children at a physical therapy center in downtown Indianapolis.
Essex also has earned her student pilot license and will receive her private pilot’s license in January at age 17. She wants to major in aeronautical engineering and aviation at Purdue University.
Junior Adam Bartley became interested in robotics in Snodgrass’ programming classroom that is adjacent to the robotics build room. He initially became a part of the program’s zoo toys program for the Indianapolis Zoo.
“I want to get involved with software design and engineering,” Bartley said. “This (robotics) provides me the steps through programming and design to the final project.”
His participation began with a team that is developing a robot with a small camera and transmitter that can enter a room undetected and scan the area for the Southport Police Department. He now is the student supervisor of developing the much-needed robot.
“I know it’s only one robot,” Bartley said. “It’s better that no one is hurt in certain situations; it could save a life.”
The community outreach programs take place from May to January before the competition robotics build season for district and state events through April.
“As part of our vision statement, we try to share our passions with our community,” Snodgrass said. “Our hope is that other future students see us at our community activities and want to become a part of our program.
The robotics program includes a variety of activities which attracted sophomore Rose Haflett, who is in operations. She has some interest in STEM but helps in CyberCards community outreach and has changed her post-high school interest from architectural engineering to communication or infomatics.
“No matter what their interests, there’s room for students in robotics,” Haflett said. “I know the mentors and coaches will steer the students in a good direction.”
The program also includes the CyberCards Steelbeaks at the Southport Middle School.
The CyberCards have appeared at various community events as they seek year-round funding from businesses and corporations. They were 2016 district champions among being district finalists and also have received entrepreneurship and spirit awards.
They recently had their first competition at West Lafayette since 2019 due to covid restrictions and they will compete in league and state championships during this school year.
Snodgrass concluded, “Our team’s most important accomplishments have been to make more students career-ready.”