CAMDEN, NJ—Building a 120-pound robot to compete against over 100 other high school teams from across the state in just six weeks may seem like a daunting task on paper. Even more so when it's the first time you’ve ever done it.

However, the students on Mastery High School of Camden’s first ever robotics team are not intimidated by the challenge. They plan to make a name for themselves at March’s FIRST Mid-Atlantic robotics competition and will have the help of brand new state-of-the-art tools and equipment to achieve their goals.

On Monday, the high school’s robotics team received $5,000 worth of tools and equipment to the school’s robotics team from FIRST Mid-Atlantic. A nonprofit organization, FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] Mid-Atlantic is the regional chapter of FIRST, a national organization that runs the FIRST Robotics Competition [FRC] programs.

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Junior Ryan Olan did not hesitate on Monday when asked what he is looking forward to the most in the upcoming weeks.

“I’m really looking forward toward winning the competition in general,” Ryan said.

Freshman Jalynn Ayal echoed Ryan’s sentiment.

“I’m looking forward to getting recognized,” Jalynn said. “As one of the smallest teams in, and it being our first year — all these other teams are pretty big and have all this experience — hopefully we get a good reputation based off of our first year and we have fun with it.”

FIRST Mid-Atlantic runs the robotics competitions for all grade levels in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The robotics team at Mastery High School of Camden is in its first year — just like the school itself, which opened in the old Pyne Poynt School this fall — and is mostly made up of 12 freshman and juniors. For Ryan, it provides him with an opportunity to get experience in the career field he hopes to pursue after graduation.

"I want to get as much experience as I possibly can with mechanics or engineering because my future field is aerospace engineering," Ryan said. "If I get a bunch of experience in engineering in general, then I will know what I’m in for."

Chemistry teacher Gavin Colley, who oversees the club, said the idea came when two students were looking for more extracurricular activity opportunities. Colley, familiar with the robotics team his high school had when he was a high school student, reached out to an old teacher of his who was able to connect him with FIRST Mid-Atlantic.

“I wasn’t sure this would get off the ground, but then we got a $4,000 grant,” Colley said. “It all happened so quick, and now its real.”

The grant was funded through the Argosy Foundation, the Wisconsin-based nonprofit of John Abele, co-founder of Boston Scientific. FIRST Mid-Atlantic’s Development Director Herb Katz applied for it last June and when he learned of the new team forming in Camden, he knew it would be a perfect beneficiary.

“I had heard they like to do things in underserved communities,” Katz said about the Argosy Foundation grant. “I didn't know about this school and this team starting, but it just so happened that we had a number of underserved teams [in need of grant money this year].”

The Mastery High School robotics team is one of five new teams in the FIRST Mid-Atlantic competition this year.

On Saturday, the team traveled to Lenape High School for the FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff, where they learned what kind of robot they’re going to have to build and the strategy needed to be successful.

Now, the team has six weeks to plan, learn how to, and build a robot — for the first time ever.

“We’re going to try and be good at one thing and just be a good teammate,” Colley said. “As long as we can get something moving and running so they feel like ok we did something, we made something with our hands — we’re going to be fine.”

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