Robbinsville High robotics team has a job for everyone

For members of the Robbinsville High School robotics team “Nemesis,” building a robot is only one component of being a team member. Sure, there is a build team, which helps design, test and build a robot, but there is also a software team, a marketing team, a finance team, a website team and an animation team.

Senior and CEO of the team Eric Principato thinks this is one of the best things about the robotics team at Robbinsville High.“It’s more than just about the robot,” Principato said. “It’s more than just engineering.”

CFO Ralph Petagna agreed.“We’re pulling from all over the school; we’re a very diverse team,” Petagna said. Petagna himself is captain of Robbinsville High School’s soccer team, and he says the team includes a broad mix of students from all backgrounds and interests.

The team is especially proud of its high number of female members, which is uncommon among robotics teams. This year, Nemesis is approaching a half-and-half mix of girls and boys. “We definitely pride ourselves on being a co-ed team,” said Michelle Principato, head of Nemesis’ marketing sub-team. “It’s not just a team of guys building a robot.”

Because the team requires students with interests not just in engineering, but in marketing, finance and web design, as well, it has a place for everyone. Michelle and her sister were at first hesitant to join the team, as they were not interested in the scientific side of the team. “We’re not technically inclined at all,” she said. But they soon found that the team could use their abilities. “We each have our own niche,” she said.

Team Nemesis is structured like a business, Michelle said, and because of this it has taught her how to work with others, how to work on a time limit, and how to raise money, among other things. “It has really prepared me for the real world,” she said. “It has really helped me grow as a person.”

Not only is the team run like a business, but students in Nemesis run it themselves, with limited help from Robbinsville High School teacher and adviser Joy Wolfe, as well as other teachers, parents and mentors. “Our team is great,” Wolfe said. “They’re calling the shots.”

Students on the team are responsible for all facets of running it, including organizing trips to competitions. “The planning is a lot,” said Petagna. “But when it comes together, it’s a really great time.”

Nemesis is surely doing something right, because this year – the fifth year for the team – led to an incredibly successful and eventful competition season. Most impressive, the team recently won the Chairman’s Award at the Lenape District competition, the most prestigious award given at FIRST competitions. The team also won an award for its website at the same competition.

FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is a not-for-profit organization that aims to inspire youth and promote interest in science and technology. FIRST sponsors regional and district robotics competitions and championships for which teams across the United States and in other countries spend hundreds of hours building robots.

FIRST’s competitions somewhat resemble a sports game. They involve creating teams of robots that play against each other in a game designed by FIRST. This year, the game involved shooting basketball-like foam balls into hoops of different heights (getting the ball into a higher hoop garnered more points). In mid-March, the team packed up its robot and traveled to Montreal to participate in the Montreal regional competition.

There, it also won an award, this time taking first place in the competition after playing 11 qualification matches. The win means Nemesis is qualified to compete in the FIRST Championship in St. Louis April 26 to 28. In Montreal, the team also earned its second award for entrepreneurship this season.

“It’s been a great year,” said JP Ranu, the second CFO for the team.

Nemesis currently has a large number of seniors, who have been with the team for multiple seasons, and this, Ranu believes, is why the team has done so well this year. “We’ve learned from each other,” he said. “We know each other.”

On a good team, he said, each member knows each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and understands where he or she best fits in the team. “Everyone knows their part,” Ranu said.

Matthew Schwartz, the build team’s chief technology officer, said he has always been interested in science and technology, and joined the team for the chance to work on a robot, but soon realized that there is more to Nemesis than building a robot.

“I’ve learned so much in technology and also leadership,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”