Robot warriors: SNS's pole-scaling robot earns middle school BEST

Molly Mosher | The Walton Sun
The marketing team’s slogan, “May the centrifugal force be with you,” perfectly fit with their “Star Warp” theme. The marketing team includes, front row, Ben Balfanz, Emme Martin, Nick Trodd; back row, Courtney Chesser, Lucy Miree, Sammie Accola, A.J. Cloutier, Ale Brown.

The Seaside Neighborhood School went to great heights — literally — in the regional robotics competition at Auburn University recently.

“They told us in the teaser that we were going up,” said eighth grader Courtney Chesser. The students were surprised to learn that, for the first time ever, their robot would have to move vertically.

But even if the students were shocked by the challenge, the results didn’t show it. The Seaside Neighborhood School’s pole-scaling robot took a first in Middle School BEST and a first in the video competition.


The robot, given the theme “Star Warp,” was built to represent a space elevator, which would carry “cargo,” “solar panels” and “fuel bottles” to a space midway point.

Former SNS Principal Cathy Brubaker’s husband, Dan, who has had a 30-plus year career as an engineer, was key in helping the students in the planning and construction.

“It’s all the kids … I just stand there and sweat bullets until it’s over,” said Brubaker, who has been assisting in the competitions for six years.

“The mentor’s job is to make sure (the students) understand the implications of (their) ideas so they can make the best choice,” he said. “You see the kids’ … minds a-workin’.”

Brubaker has a full workshop in his garage, which the eighth graders use to build the final product and prototypes, using lathes, band saws, table saws, and soldering tools, among others.

“It exposes those kids to machines,” said Brubaker, who works with the builders to make sure they are using the tools “safely” and “appropriately.”

Other Eglin engineers who helped were Greg Chesser, 96 Test Wing Range Safety, Chris Varner, and Reed Young.

Other mentors came in to lend a hand in preparing for the other scored aspects of the project.

Ann Casey helped with community outreach, which ultimately raised enough money for the students to fully pay for the construction of the robot.

Kelly Oliver and Jessica Duggan helped with the table display part of the presentation and marketing of the project.

Daniel Frankfurt from Destin Toastmasters came to the school to give the presentations team some pointers, ranging from “eye contact and how to answer a question without rambling,” according to Nick Trodd, a part of the marketing team.

Jill-of-all-trades Chesser said she enjoyed working on many aspects of the project, helping with the notebook, designing and programming the robot.

The students were also coached in various aspects of the project by science teacher Courtney Krick and language arts teacher Laura Walsh.

“They helped me out, and told me what to expect,” said Krick. This was the science teacher’s first year at the school and participating in the robotics competition.

The students and their robots took first in many aspects at the Pensacola hub competition, earning a chance to compete in Auburn against other middle schools, magnet schools, and high schools from around the Southeast.

At the competition, the students had to balance efficiency with accuracy to try and pick up and move vertically the plastic water bottle “fuel cells” and balls of “cargo.” The students had 30 seconds to attach their robot to a pole and three minutes to move as many items as possible to the space station, which was about 10 feet overhead.

Driver seventh-grade student Hayden Stroop said the pace was “go-go-go,” with last minute changes and trying to get the robot attached to the pole on time.

“It was kind of reckless putting it on the pole,” said Stroop.

But though the competition was fierce, the middle school secured a win in Middle School BEST. They also won first in the video competition, which is a part of the competition for the first year ever.

All 133 SNS students were significant parts of the win, with the school receiving points for marketing, design, engineering notebook, and spirit and sportsmanship.

The sixth graders were mostly spirit and sportsmanship, and were responsible for passing out bracelets with the project motto “May the centrifugal force be with you” and good-luck tokens to the other schools. 

A few seventh graders were very involved in the project, with seventh grader Stroop as a driver and seventh grader Jasmine Sumpter producing all of the CAD drawings.

All of this year’s seventh grade students will be fully involved in the competition next year, and eighth grader Curran Casey says they have a lot to look forward to.

“We were really, really excited,” Casey said of finally becoming fully involved in the project.

If those seventh graders would like to start brainstorming, however, they will have to wait. Each year a teaser is given as a preview to the next year’s project, but “Teasers make no sense whatsoever,” said Driver Andy Smartt.