‘This I Believe’ series: The rewards of robotics

Zack Charlebois shares the rewards and challenges of being on the robotics team.



Working with robotics: The rewards can be huge.

This is the first of a series of “This I Believe” student essays, based on the work begun in the 1950s by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. Murrow felt it was important to allow Americans, who were going through a dark time in history (the Red Scare), to tell their stories and use their voices.  

I believe that robots will rule the world.

It was the last match of the finals at the Pittsburgh Regional. The game very close between us and the other teams. The cheering from the crowd seemed never-ending. The match had ended, but before the scores were shown, time seemed to slow down, and we were within reach of penultimate goal of qualifying to go to the world championship for the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Like the average freshman in high school, I just wanted to find somewhere where I fit in. I searched far and wide for an activity that intrigued me, and I found nothing. But when I went to set up my locker at the beginning of the school year, I saw robotics team 1126, Sparx, performing a demonstration, and I immediately signed up to join.

Sparx is a part of the international non-profit organization, FIRST, which makes the games that the teams compete in. Once on the team, I joined the mechanical subteam, which is the subdivision on the team that builds the physical elements of our robot.  I’ve been there ever since. I never could have known how much of an impact robotics would have on my life.

My year on Sparx as a freshman had an immense impact on my life. Before robotics, I was one of the people whose technical expertise extended to telling the difference between a Phillips head and a flathead screwdriver, and I’m sure that many people can relate.

But after the first few meetings, I met some really helpful students and mentors on my team who helped me grow. They taught me everything from using a mill to CAD, a 3D design program. As John C. Maxwell said, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and I’ve discovered that there is real truth behind his statement. I’ve met some of my closest friend while in Sparx, and I couldn’t have been able to succeed on the team without the help of my teammates.

The Pittsburgh Regional competition from 2016 is my favorite memory, so far, from Sparx. The reason why this is may be quite obvious:  We won. It was my first competition ever for robotics, and we pulled through on top. We all shouted our signature cheer: “Go Sparx..1..1..2..6!” 

But the best part was not getting a fancy banner that says we won. The best part was seeing how all of our hard work had paid off. Because we only are given six weeks, we all must put in our maximum effort to make the best robot that we possibly can. Some of the older students on the team, which now includes me, even go in on weekends or during winter break from eleven in the morning to eleven at night to work on the robot. These people are a prime models of dedication.

“Gracious professionalism” is the most important value to all of FIRST robotics. As it is written on the official FIRST website, “Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process.” This basically means that students in the program, even though they are trying to have the best robot, still show respect to all — even when they lose.

I’ll admit that I do get disappointed when we lose at a match, but then I remember how important that GP is, and how it’s all for fun. It is so important to have this value, because it allows the students who grow up and move on to bigger things to act respectfully to anyone whom they encounter. Respect is the foundation for all healthy relationships, which is why we need to instill concepts like this into younger generations everywhere.

Robotics has helped me grow in every part of my life.  I learned more about respect through “gracious professionalism.” When I experienced my first win, this showed me how amazing it is to put the utmost devotion into things that I do every day.

Sparx has, and will continue to, make me a better person overall. Additionally, robotics is going to usher in the next generation of innovators and problem solvers that will have the know-how to do great things. In older ages, the rulers of civilization had the power to change the world how they wanted. Now it’s the robotics students’ turn.

In truth, it won’t be the robots that take over the world.  The ones who build them will.