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Salem Robotics Program: A Process of Discovery

BEYOND THE CLASSROOM    |   Return to Possibilities...

BAE Engineer Steve Melito (left) -- one of eight volunteer mentors to the program -- works with SHS Robotics students on electrical issues within the base of the team's robot as they prepare for a regional competition.

Fresh off a surprising win at the Southern New Hampshire District FIRST Robotics competition, John Seeman and the Salem High School robotics team are back at work. Only a few days remain before the robot -- and the students -- go back into competition against 40-plus teams from around New England.

They’ll be tasked with remotely operating a robot they built, with software they created, to navigate a defined arena in a race to accomplish certain objectives and gain points. All while other robots try to stop them. (See video “Deep Space Game Animation” to the right).

The Robotics program, which Seeman revived when he joined the district as an engineering instructor, is now in its third year. The number of participating students has doubled to more than 20 and the energy and enthusiasm has inspired the creation of a Vex IQ team at the middle school and the First Lego League across the elementary schools.

As faculty advisor, Seeman has worked hard to increase the level of expertise in the program by the partnering with the Salem community mentors. “We were able to design this year’s robot completely on CADD software,” Seeman notes. “Having the students work with experts from local engineering companies really accelerates the learning opportunities for the students and increases the quality of the design.”

Steve Melito, an engineer at BAE Systems and one of eight community mentors, has been witness to the growth of the students and the program. A 25-year veteran of the electronics industry, Melito enjoys seeing the thrill of discovery in the students.

“They get exposed to a lot of new concepts through problem solving,” Melito explains during an evening work session. “They might come into the program thinking they can do one thing, then they start adding skills and gaining new interests when they become involved in different aspects of design or programing.”

While he’s there to offer guidance, Melito says the students do all the work. “They run into a lot of problems during the first six weeks of the build,” he adds with a smile. “But they eventually figure it out. Seeing the satisfaction they get from overcoming obstacles makes it all worth it.”

The teamwork and collaboration students experience throughout the process is what Seeman values most about the program. “They’re constantly facing engineering challenges and making decisions based on desired functionality and available resources,” Seeman explains. “Whether it’s sourcing different materials for the robot or diagnosing electrical issues, each phase introduces new problems that need solutions.”

In preparation for the upcoming competition, the team has taken over the newly-created Maker Space area in the CTE wing of the Salem High School. Mentors and students are spending evenings correcting software issues and designing robot parts to replace those damaged during the recent event. Students are testing circuits, reviewing CADD designs, and molding new plastic parts on the laser cutter.

“The competitions are exciting and it’s great to get a win,” Seeman explains with a voice sore from the past weekend’s event. “But it’s really the process of discovery leading up to the event that offers lasting rewards for the students.”

This is the official game animation for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition game, DESTINATION DEEP SPACE.

The team's robot pictured using the grasping arm mechanism to carry a ball during their recent victory at the SNH District FIRST Robotics competition.

Team Sponsors

The following community sponsors provides support to this year's Robotics team efforts:

  • Schneider Electric
  • Scott Electronics
  • Nordson Medical
  • Merrill Lynch
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Debruyckere Law Offices