Nikki Schaffer
Features Editor

Robots, humans and an epic race. No, this is not the plot of a science fiction novel (although it could be), but rather, a description of this year’s Pennsylvania FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Championship Tournament. FTC is a robotics competition for 7-12 grade students who design, build and program a robot to complete a designated task in an alliance formatted arena.

Teams of high school students work together in alliances to control their robots while attempting to score the most points.
Teams of high school students work together in alliances to control their robots while attempting to score the most points.

Millersville University’s Department of Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology (AEST) previously hosted this event last year and will be hosting it again this Saturday, March 1 in the SMC Marauder Court. Opening ceremonies start at 10:30 a.m. and winners will be announced at 6:00 p.m. This year’s 2013/14 theme is “Block Party,” and over 400 high school students, their families and mentors will be participating in or supporting this event. The entire program is organized by volunteers, some students and faculty from the AEST department and others from the community.

The FTC challenge name lends itself to the 100 two inch square yellow blocks that are randomly placed on the front and rear block zones. While this type of competition is seemingly unheard of by most of the general public, the collaboration between teams itself, is even more unique. Players compete on a 12 foot square foam tiled floor surrounded by 1 foot high walls. A team consists of two driver operators, a coach and a robot that must fit within an 18 inch sizing cube and be constructed from materials specified in the Game Manual, (a “rule-book” for the competition). However, once the competition starts, the robot can grow to any size.

“Each match is played with four randomly selected teams, two per alliance. Your alliance partner for one match may be your opponent in another,” says the Block Party Game webpage for the FTC.

While an ongoing task for the competition will be to place blocks into boxes balanced on a pendulum, there are other difficult challenges presented. Teams gain extra points if their robot can dangle from a pull up bar in the center of the arena, can raise their alliance’s flag or if they can cross a bridge that also lies in the center of the playing field. At the end, if they are successfully able to balance their own pendulum, their block score increases by 50 percent.

Only those players who have advanced from the Pennsylvania Qualifying Tournaments and the Philadelphia Meets are eligible to participate in the FTC championship, says the FTC website. Awards given at the end of the tournament may reward the team with the best design, most spirit or those who have undertaken great community outreach for FTC. Winners of this championship may go on to compete in the East Super-Regional Championship Tournament.

The championship venue is a very exciting place to be as students’ ingenuity and strategy are tested under the watchful eye of many spectators, referees, volunteers and judges.
The championship venue is a very exciting place to be as students’ ingenuity and strategy are tested under the watchful eye of many spectators, referees, volunteers and judges.

As FTC’s sponsor, Millersville’s AEST department is able to give students a perspective of what opportunities are available in a college setting.

“Our department likes to be a part of this event because we want these high school students to connect the fun and challenge they are experiencing in this competition to the programs we offer in AEST. Students are able to use applied engineering, develop math skills, as well as learn how to communicate and work together as a team,” said Millersville’s Dr. Sharon Brusic, a Technology Education Coordinator, who is also serving to organize MU’s involvement with FTC.

Brusic recommends that any undeclared college major interested in applied engineering, safety, or technology, attend the open house also taking place on March 1 in Osburn Hall starting at 10 a.m. The AEST department will be hosting lab demonstrations and presentations, as well as giving tours of the building. The open house is a time for prospective as well as current MU students to explore the department.

“We use this as an opportunity to show off our department,” said Brusic, “our goal is for prospective students to see how they can apply their love for technology, engineering, and problem-solving to their college studies.”

The AEST program offers three different degrees: applied engineering and technology management (with many technical concentrations), technology & engineering education and occupational safety and environmental health. All three of these different majors provide a wide range of engaging, motivating and intensive learning courses, which inevitably lead to incredible job opportunities in teaching, industry, and business, says Brusic.

Sophomore technology education major, Korbin Shearer, has always enjoyed working with his hands as well as seeing a person’s reaction as they learn. His love of teaching and hands on activities led to his decision to major in Tech Ed at MU, which he calls “the perfect combination of the good stuff.”

What Shearer loves most about the AEST department are the teachers, who have always been friendly and welcoming, he says. As for robotics, Shearer describes an increasing need for individuals to work in the robotics field.

“There is a large need not only for the designers and engineers of the robotic components, but there is also a large need for technicians and applied engineers who are able to combine different components and repair things as well. This competition is a great way to spark the interest of robotics in young people as well as give them experience with using and programming them,” said Shearer.

Whether you are a prospective student interested in the field, or just a robot-nerd, don’t miss this fierce competition. To find out more information about the Robotics Competition, check out their website at…ship-tournament. For more information about the AEST Open House, go to