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Christian home-schoolers shine at robotics competition

FINS Robotics
FINS Robotics won multiple top prizes at the BEST Robotics competition in October at Grove City College, which secured the team's advancement to regional competition in Denver at Christmastime. In the back row are, from left, coach Amy Farrey of Cranberry Township; coach Stella Jones of Gibsonia; coach Brigitte Altland of Baden; coach Laura Tame, of Fox Chapel; Aiden Guffey, 16, of Zelienople; David Altland, 15, of Baden; Max Tame, 15, of Fox Chapel; Silas Pickett, 13, of Cranberry Township; Kingston Stamoolis, 14, of Fox Chapel; Zach Sayson, 15, of Cranberry Township; and coach Aaron Farrey, of Cranberry Township. Pictured in the middle row, from left, are coach Jennie Pickett, of Cranberry Township; Abigail Farrey, 18, of Cranberry Township; Kaitlyn Jones, 15, of Gibsonia; Ian Tseng, 15, of McCandless Township; Luke Schroeder, 15, of Cranberry Township; and Cassidy Altland, 13, of Baden. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Lucas Davison, 14, of Wexford; Cooper Jones, 13, of Gibsonia; Sarah Stepke, 15, of Bellevue; Norah Pickett, 11, of Cranberry Township; Annabel Mete, 14, of Rochester; Alex Farrey, 15, of Cranberry Township; and Brady Watkins, 14, of Glenshaw. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

A group of home-schooled students from Butler and Allegheny counties competed against 14 high school robotics teams and brought home a number of medals, including one first place.

The 19 students called themselves FINS Robotics, which stands for Family Instructors of the Northern Suburbs (of Pittsburgh).

The BEST Robotics competition was held Oct. 20 and 21 at Grove City College.

Coach Laura Tame said Grove City College serves as a hub for BEST Robotics teams hailing from Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

The local success of FINS Robotics allows them to advance to regional competition in Denver in December.

There, the students will face top teams from the eight BEST Robotics hubs, which are in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

BEST Robotics, which is an acronym for Boosting Engineering Science Technology, is an all-volunteer organization that holds robotics competitions for middle and high school students in the interest of engaging and exciting students about engineering, science and technology, and to inspire them to pursue careers in those fields, according to the BEST Robotics’ website.

FINS Robotics team
Zach Sayon, left, of Cranberry Township, and Max Tame, of Fox Chapel, secure a camera to their team’s robot to film the robot on the field. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

Tame said the Christian home-schooled students in FINS Robotics, half of whom are from Cranberry Township or Zelienople, placed second overall in the competition, and took first place in the category of “marketing presentation.”

The marketing presentation includes creating a fictitious company to sell the team’s robot and then sharing the distinct qualities of the robot, as well as the marketing and financial information to entice the judges to “invest” in their company.

“Within the marketing presentation, we get to share our mission and vision as a company, the details of our robot, ways that we have reached out in the community throughout the year, and financial information that includes a formal budget for our product and company for the year and beyond,” Tame said. “Our marketing presentation team took first place last year and this year.”

The FINS Robotics team also took second in the category of “team exhibit,” and second in “the game,” where team robots compete head-to-head.

The team’s robot, named SLICE for Saving Lives in Critical Environments, includes a claw to help harvest veins and complete coronary artery bypass procedures.

The multi-tool helps to complete brain biopsies autonomously, cardiac angioplasty and stent insertion procedures, and cardiac valve repair operations that include a skid to help balance the robot and collect blood droplets to help control internal bleeding, and more.

In addition, the FINS team won an award for best marketing video, which promotes both BEST Robotics and FINS Robotics, Tame said.

She said BEST Robotics competitions have an engineering element where students work with coaches and mentors to create a robot to complete a specific set of challenges.

There is also a marketing element to the competition where students give a marketing presentation and team exhibit, which is similar to a trade show booth.

The FINS Robotics students and coaches have been meeting three times per week since early August in Cranberry Township to prepare for the BEST Robotics competition.

FINS Robotics team
Abigail Farrey, left, of Cranberry Township, and coach Brigitte Altland, of Baden, work on the engineering notebook that documented the FINS Robotics team's design and engineering processes. The notebook comprised about 35% of the team's score at the BEST Robotics competition at Grove City College in October. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

Abigail Farrey, 18, of Cranberry Township, said part of the reason for the team’s success is the strong leadership and open learning environment enjoyed by the students.

“We trust each other and value each other’s ideas,” Abigail said, “and we trust God to motivate us and inspire us.”

Abigail said the meetings leading up to the competition not only increase the chances of bringing home medals, but build friendships among the home-schooled students.

“This year, we broke down into smaller subgroups to tackle each portion of the competition, and that really helped productivity,” Abigail said. “Using last year’s experience and learning can boost confidence and success because you are able to build off what you already know.”

She said she has thoroughly enjoyed the BEST Robotics competitions for several reasons.

“I have enjoyed the camaraderie, learning experiences and motivation,” Farrey said.

Aiden Guffey, 16, of Zelienople, called the team “a skilled group of individuals with a fairly smooth engineering process that gives us plenty of time to consider designs and strategy.”

Aiden said the entire experience on the FINS Robotics team has been outstanding, and not just because the students were able to bring home medals.

“Getting to learn and build something we are all passionate about with friends is what I have enjoyed most about this competition,” he said.

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