St. Cecilia Academy LadyBots Robotics Team hosted their second annual scrimmage in person on The Dominican Campus.
This year’s event is noteworthy not only because it incorporated Covid protocols unknown to last year’s scrimmage, but because it is the only in-person FTC (First Tech Challenge) Robotics event held in Tennessee this season.
Last January when St. Cecilia hosted their first scrimmage, the event attracted fifteen eager teams from around the region. This year, with many public school students in online school situations, the scrimmage still gathered six in-person teams and one virtual, offering a much-needed opportunity for students to share ideas and connect personally after a year of isolation for many teens. As LadyBots lead robot builder, Ava Thienel, said, “Community is a big part of robotics. It is more than metal, motors, and hardware. Being around people who appreciate your work and share your interests creates empowerment. The scrimmage served as a reminder that we are all going through hurdles to make this year possible, but we are stronger together.”
Last year’s season was a great one for the Ladybots, who competed in Tennessee and Kentucky until March when Covid hit. The team captured several top awards in their short season, including the First Alliance winner, 1st in the Connect Award, 3rd in the Control Award, and 2nd in the Inspire Award, the latter placing them on a path to qualify for the World Championship in Houston, which unfortunately was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Now in its sixth year, the St. Cecilia Robotics program teaches students how to be engineers, programmers, and leaders while also fostering a collaborative spirit within a larger community. It is a great fit for St. Cecilia girls interested in math, science, and creative problem-solving, combining the competitive spirit of team sports with the gracious professionalism emphasized by the FTC community. As Ladybots coach Ashley George says, “That ‘gracious professionalism’ is just normal for us because it is part of being a St. Cecilia girl.”
It also means that the Ladybots team wants to do more with their skills than simply win. In addition to senior Ladybot members mentoring new members in building and coding, the SCA team wanted to impart their enthusiasm for Robotics to middle school students. Last year they
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developed a mentoring relationship with St Henry School’s First Lego League (FLL) that has continued even amid the challenges of Covid. In 2020 the St. Cecilia team mentored the Tiger rookie team all the way to the state competition where they placed third.
Coach George said that the girls on this year’s SCA Robotics team were determined to host an in-person scrimmage because they wanted to provide an opportunity for other teams to share ideas and compete in person rather than just virtually via Zoom or Teams. Coach George says, “I am very proud of this team. They understand this program is more than just about building and programming a robot. They do all they can to help not just their teammates but other teams along the way to be successful. While most of our interactions with teams have been virtual this year, this scrimmage brought teams together in a way that virtual conference calls cannot.” The students also appreciated how the in-person scrimmage is invaluable preparation for the state competition in April.
While nineteen girls are currently part of the SCA Robotics team, many more students have expressed an interest in robotics, engineering, and coding. Coach George, who also teaches Physics at St. Cecilia and has a background as an engineer for General Electric, said that she has been approached by a number of girls who want to learn more but are also involved in sports and other activities that prevent them being a part of the Ladybots team. To serve those students interested in STEM-related fields, St. Cecilia will introduce an engineering and coding class for the 2021-2022 academic year. The class will be lab-based and designed to develop skills in both mechanical engineering and basic coding and programming. Students will also explore the world of 3D design with CAD (computer-aided design) and 3D printing. Just as the Ladybots experience has been, this newest class will provide a dynamic and hands-on environment where girls can flourish in a collaborative, community-centered environment.