Robotics Contest Teaches Students to Co-operate in Competitive Environment

City students gather in Queens to take part in a nationwide robot-building competition. As NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner reports, it's much more about preparing long-term than winning in the short.

Meet the innovators of the future.

"I want to study engineering," said Jaimpei Zheng, a student at Lower East Side Preparatory High School.

"Hopefully computer science," said Sagar Punjabi, a student at Forest Hills High School. "That's what I'm mostly into. I'm a coder."

For now, though they're high school kids, competing in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

This year — for the first time — the game has a theme. FIRST RES-Q finds the 18-inch robots working to clear debris from a simulated disaster recovery zone.

"So when we are building robots that are not just scoring balls but scoring balls that represent debris and climbing a mountain that represents an actual mountain and saving the climbers from the mountain we are showing the students that they are building robots that solve real world problems," said Sam Alexander, NYC FIRST's high school programs manager.

Students also develop real world skills, from fundraising and marketing to coding and construction.

"In the real world you won't be working alone definitely so it's a great way to learn how to work with others, how to give and let go," said Michele Lee with the Forest Hills Robotics League.

"It teaches you a lot, especially deadlines," said Rahul Somdhi with Syosset High School Dream Team. "I'll tell you that one thing. There's been a lot of late nights."

What makes FIRST different from other high school leagues is the spirit of 'coopetition.' Teams learn from one another and cooperate even with their fiercest competitors.

"Like if you need a spare part you ask someone else, we've given other teams spare parts," said Daryn Golub of Solomon Schecter School of Westchester. "We're competing but we're also not competing."

Some of the teams will go on to regionals at the Javits Center, or the National Championship in St. Louis, but organizers hope all of them will leave ready to conquer any mountain they may face.

"Basically I would hope that they would enjoy problem solving and tackle things hands on as opposed to just learning and memorizing it," said Iffat Mai, coach of the Forest Hills Robotics League.

"Working with corporate mentors, being leaders, sharing their ideas with other people and by doing that they are going to go on to companies like Tesla, like Boeing, like SpaceX and know how to work on a team and know how to creatively solve problems," said Alexander.

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