I am UIC: Students showcase robotics skills at UIC

Robotics teams from the city, state, across the country and even internationally gathered at the Credit Union 1 Arena last week to compete in the First Illinois Robotics event. For the 11th year, UIC has hosted the First Illinois Robotics regionals event.

Gerald Smith, director of minority affairs in the UIC College of Engineering, has been Planning Committee Chairman for the event for seven years. The event helps students engage with engineering while also highlighting UIC and its engineering department, he said. Smith said 40 to 50 teams of high school and grade school students competed at the event.

“This is an opportunity to showcase the campus and bring smart STEM kids to the university,” Smith said.

The main event, which involved a basketball-style game between industrial-sized robots, took place on the arena floor, while other teams were invited to demonstrate their robots in the walkway surrounding the arena. Grade-school children created their designs using Legos.

The “Not Not Nerds” team from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, showcased a robot connected to a video game controller. The goal was to steer the robot to pick up a ball and place it in a basket. One group member controlled the crane while another steered the vehicle. The group began to build in November and completed the project last month. The robot is made from various metal materials, including a drawer slide for the crane arm.

“This is different from math class or the math team because you get to use your hands,” group member Kyle Pulido said.

The “Wild Stang” team from Township High School District 214 in Cook County, competed in the main event. The team is composed of about 70 students and has reached regionals since 1996 as well as won the national title three times.

“Each year is a brand-new game,” mentor Tim Wilczynski said. Wilczynski grew up playing Legos with his dad and now works as an automation engineer for Tesla. He has stayed with the program since high school and wants to give back, stemming from his appreciation for his own mentors.

Lincoln middle schooler Effie Hatzopoulos explained a space-themed project with her group members. Their Lego creation was powered by flip switches and small robots that launched space pods.

Effie’s mom, Lisa Hatzopoulos, said the group is heading to the world championship in Detroit.

“It’s a great way to get kids into engineering,” she added.

Tom Ackerman is a first-year transfer student and a junior studying communication. He is pursuing journalism as a future career and appreciates community stories as well as sharing stories in different perspectives to shed light on happenings. Tom grew up in Chicagoland but spent the last three years in New England seeing sights, skiing and fishing while attending community college. Tom is thrilled to be back in Chicagoland and appreciates any student-oriented news tips. Disclaimer: Tom prefers the White Sox to the Cubs.