FIRST challenge

Friday, February 1, 2013



Their shirts sport the motto of what has become an inside team joke – “Sanity is Optional.”

Build season, the six weeks following the revealing of the year’s robotic challenge, are typically filled with “lack of sleep, extra stress, and no time to do homework,” said Sarah Drazin, a Hollis Brookline High School senior and co-CEO. And yet she and co-CEO Aaron Pepin, a fellow Hollis senior, wouldn’t change things at all.

“It’s fun. We get to learn while playing,” Pepin said.

The Hollis Brookline FIRST team, FORCE 1073, consists of about 80 members, 15 of whom are girls. Add 15 adult mentors and you get three rooms filled with sub-teams figuring out how to build a robot that will be able to compete in a series of designated tasks. This year’s challenge was introduced in part by Samy Hay, a previous member of FORCE 1073 who had won a FIRST scholarship to Northeastern University.

The challenge includes throwing Frisbees by the robot into targets of varying heights, and having the robot climb a 10-foot structure, two levels at a time.

“It looks like an impossible task, but then it always looks impossible, but somehow it always gets done,” said Hay, a technology teacher at the high school and adviser for the team,“ Hay said. “The challenge this year is difficult because of the climbing structure. It’s 10 feet tall and 94 inches wide. It’s not the kind of thing that once built we can move anywhere like in the hallway to practice.”

To incorporate as much real-world skills, the team is run by two co-CEO’s, and is further broken down to six subgroups: business, electrical, integration, mechanical, software, and strategy. Each subgroup is led by a vice president. Within these teams, the members learn engineering, software, programming and other skills. The team also has a 3-D printer that’s used by the members to design and create pieces unique to their robot’s build.

“But it’s not just about the robot,” Pepin said.

FORCE 1073 also has a place for kids who may not end up studying engineering. Case in point is Hannah St. George, a Brookline junior. St. George is the VP of the Business team, and focuses on marketing and finance. She plans to use the skills she’s learning when she goes to college to pursue a marketing degree.

During the build season, FORCE 1073 members meet every daily. In their designated groups, they work on what their assigned sub-teams. To help them learn the needed skills, mentors are there to lend a hand by working alongside the team and posing, “what if questions.” The mentors are careful to adhere to the philosophy of “never in front, always beside or behind,” when working with the team.

Each sub-team then reports to the group during a weekly status meeting.

“Being on FIRST helps people learn how to be more competent in what they are saying,” said Drazin, who admits she used to be shy about public speaking, but not any more. “You can spot the kids who are on FIRST when you are walking down the hall. You can just see the confidence.”

The team works year-round as they compete in regional competitions and in local competitions, including Mayhem, Merrimack, River Rage Merrimack and BattleCry at WPI. Outside of the competition season, they are involved with various Lego leagues, Jr. Lego Leagues and demonstrate their robots at various local elementary schools to encourage young students to ask questions about the robots and the process.

FORCE 1073 will compete in the BAE Granite State Regional competition in Manchester on Feb. 28-March 2, and in the Pine Tree Regional in Maine, on April 4. In 2010, along with teams 1058 and 1519, FORCE 1073 won the Granite State regionals and advanced to the nationals held in Atlanta, Ga. They are hoping to repeat that performance this year.

For more information on the FORCE Team 1073, visit their website at

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