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Queen's students mentor local youth, head to international competition

High school-aged inventors mentored by Queen’s University technological education students and industry mentors from the community took top awards at a recent robot-building competition.

The students were tasked with building a robot to throw frisbees and climb a pyramid. The Kingston team won the top-seeded rookie team award and the rookie all-star award at the FIRST Robotics Canada competition, and earned a berth at the international finals in St. Louis, Missouri.

Inspired by Christine Bibic, administrative assistant, FIRST Robotics Canada, Lynda Colgan (Education) approached Ken Ball (Workshop Supervisor, Technological Education Program) to see if the Queen’s technical education students could use the on-campus workshop to build the robot for the competition. She then started reaching out to the community to build the team.

Students work to build their robot for competition.

“By grade three, 50 per cent of students don’t like science and we have fewer teacher candidates interested in teaching subjects like math and physics,” says Dr. Colgan. “We need people to inspire our children.”

With 13 students on board, the Wild About Family and Friends Learning Engineering and Science (WAFFLES) team was born. This is the first time a team in Canada has been established without direct ties to a specific high school.

“Any student could join our team as long as they were committed,” says Dr. Colgan. “We focused on the educational opportunity it provided, not on winning. We were an incredible long shot and we didn’t even have a budget – all we had was enthusiasm.”

The team designed and built a robot able to pick up and throw Frisbees and also climb a ladder. Mr. Ball said this opportunity not only inspired the teacher candidates – it also gave them a once in a lifetime experience.

“A lot of young people play sports but there is a very remote chance they will become professionals in that field,” says Mr. Ball. “In science, all of these students can become pros if they want to. This competition gave them a solid start.”

Along with the team awards, high school student Kaley Bibic, who started the community team, was named as a Dean’s List Finalist, an award given to two top students at the event. “I didn’t think engineering was my type of work when I first started,” she says, “but now I love it and I wanted other students to be able to get involved, no matter what school they were from. These competitions make you feel inspired and empowered, like you can do anything.”

The WAFFLES team travels to St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics World Championships on April 24.