Oregon FIRST Robotics team, The Lake Monsters, leverage success in hospital outreach during COVID-19 pandemic.
By: Hannah Straub
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many schools and student teams around the world have had to abide by stay-at-home orders and social distancing standards, completely inhibiting their ability to work and collaborate. The Lake Monsters of Lake Oswego, Oregon are no exception.
Lake Monsters Robotics, comprised of students from Lakeridge and Lake Oswego High Schools, build robots to compete in the international FIRST Robotics Competition each year, combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.
“Robotics is an after-school, extra-curricular activity, so students are there because they want to be. I enjoy hearing about their interests and helping them navigate the worlds of high school, robotics, and life,” says Darrell Teegarden of Mentor Graphics, a Siemens business. Teegarden has been a mentor with the Lake Monsters since 2008. After an introductory meeting with his high-school-age son about starting an FRC team at Lakeridge High School, he was hooked and has been with the team ever since.
The Lake Monsters use the Mentor Graphics SystemVision as a tool for modeling and simulating closed-loop control of motor systems. The team has connected with high school robotics students as summer interns to develop robotics modeling applications and learn how to develop cloud-based software.
“We’re also exploring the use of Solid Edge 3D CAD tools, as CAD tools are of critical importance to our robotics development process,” says Teegarden.
With the help of Teegarden and 10 other mentors, the Lake Monsters have known much success not only in competitions but in the community. In the last two years, the Lake Monsters have continuously done outreach projects with Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital, Salem Hospital, and three Ronald MacDonald houses in the Portland area.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I saw what was happening in marketing, and that because we get so much support from our sponsors and from FIRST in general, we had a great outlet to be able to impact our community much more than just building robots,” says Nikki Littler , a 4th-year marketing lead and member of the team.
The POWR Outreach Project was created with the goal to reach an underserved population by providing STEM education, relief, and normalcy during an extremely hard time in their lives. The Lake Monsters have distributed 1,050 make-and-take robots, and four EV3s to these children’s hospitals to provide positivity and control to these children facing significant medical conditions and lengthy hospital stays.
“I pretty much grew up in hospitals because I had club feet and I was deaf and I knew there was some way we could bring STEM to these hospitals, where these kids don’t have much control and feel helpless. Once we started doing outreach, we had a parent of a patient at Doernbecher’s sit in on a meeting just to feel better, and at that point I knew what we were doing was working,” says Hayley Lindsay, a 3rd year electrical lead and member of the team.
Due to their outreach efforts, the team has been awarded a FIRST Robotics Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious award given to FIRST Robotics teams. It honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the mission of FIRST.
“For me, this honor was just a confirmation that the work we’re doing is good and the message we had worked so hard to spread to the community was being recognized,” says Littler.
“Receiving the award boosted all of our morale in this time. I was feeling down because we can’t see each other or meet which was a big part of my day. Knowing that we worked hard enough to receive such an honor was really awesome for me,” says Lindsay.
Amid the COVID-19 quarantine, students have still been utilizing their outreach. They have been participating in virtual one-on-ones with patients at Doernbechers and using their own 3D printers to create “ear saves” for facemasks as well as sturdier headband components of heavy-duty masks for patients and employees at Doernbechers. The 3D printing material helps prevent chaffing and any uncomfort associated with wearing the masks all day.
“Everybody really misses getting together, because it is a family. Suddenly these students went from spending every day together to not seeing each other at all. We were preparing for our upcoming competition and now we’re not going to be able to use our robot at all in competition,” says Teegarden.
The team is still communicating virtually in order to remain prepared for possible competitions in the fall.
“We are very thankful for Siemens support in providing an opportunity for marginalized communities to access robotics and STEM through the Lake Monsters,” says Wendy Lindsay, marketing and outreach mentor. “I am incredibly proud of our students and know that they will continue to grow and lead the way in using STEM to make the world around them a better place.”
“My favorite part was seeing members of our own team get really excited. They would come up to me and ask, ‘When’s the next time we’re going to the hospital?” and genuinely asked to get involved. It was very meaningful to me because it showed that we’re building people. We’re building empathetic people, not just intelligent people,” concludes Littler.
To learn more about the Lake Monsters, visit their website.