Do the Robot: STEM Competition Comes to Bradley

From high above the pit, you can see what seems like a science fiction marketplace. Staring down the rows of workstations, no two are alike in artistic flair. Students and mentors in safety glasses toy with mechanics and talk strategy. You have to sidestep the robots being wheeled around by roving bands of costumed adolescents.

This wall of sound and spectacle is the Central Illinois Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition (CIR FRC).

Entertaining crowds over the course of three days during Bradley’s spring break, the CIR FRC is the culmination of hundreds of high schoolers’ STEM-centric efforts. The teams are tasked with building a robot capable of completing basic functions at competitive speeds. This year, that meant picking up and depositing plush shapes, as well as balancing on a teetering metal platform.

“I’ve learned so much,” said junior business analytics major and cybersecurity minor Alex Wesolowski. “It's just been a really rewarding experience where I've been able to connect with people in the community and work closely with students who really remind me a lot of myself in high school.”

One of several mentors for the business side of team 1736 (aka Robot Casserole), Wesolowski’s time with FIRST dates back to her high school years as a competitor. Now, she draws on her Bradley education to help handle data, inform community outreach and proof papers for the essay-based awards tied to the competition. As she aims to highlight, teams draw upon a wealth of disciplines and knowledge to make a difference both in their community and during competition.

“It's a lot more than just high school kids building a silly little robot and competing with it. It's about learning, it's about applying your skills, and really, it's about becoming confident. Honestly, I found my home by mentoring robotics.”

And she’s not the only one. Senior television arts major John Kasregis also participated in FIRST events before college as part of team 2358 (aka Bearbotics). Now, he’s the president of the student organization BU Robotics. Open to all Bradley students, they provide robotics kits to members regardless of their field of study, as well as larger projects for students hungry to collaborate.

“I've always been interested in robotics,” Kasregis said. “It helps me with teamwork, leadership, communication — It just helps with everything.”

But for those looking to pursue things like robotics professionally, what does it take to succeed in the STEM field? According to Associate Dean for the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology Julie Reyer, it requires enthusiasm, energy, excitement, and the ability to explore technical things without fear – all skills they can pick up through FIRST.

“Whether they decide they want to pursue electrical engineering because they got excited about the wires and the coating on the robot, or if they want to pursue marketing because they got excited about the imagery and how they were able to sell their team and have their team tell a story, those are all skills they can take from FIRST and learn to build upon at Bradley,” Reyer said.


— Jenevieve Rowley-Davis