The Seamonsters, a districtwide FIRST Robotics team, took home two big honors this school year – FIRST’s Engineering Inspiration and Imagery Awards.
The Seamonsters robotics team was formed at Sehome High School in 2008. The program expanded to include Bellingham High School in 2017 and Squalicum High School in 2019. The team has grown from four original members and one coach in 2008 to 39 members this school year. The team includes two coaches Kevin Criez, Sehome High School and Heather Steele, Bellingham High School, and 11 mentors.
“Over the past couple years, our team has worked hard to broaden our reach, and include as many students from all high schools in the district,” said Bellingham High school team advisor Heather Steele. “Operating as a districtwide team, with our home-base at Sehome, we are excited that this year’s team now has student representatives from Sehome, Bellingham and Squalicum high schools. Talk about a One Schoolhouse Approach!”
The group does more than build robots. Competitions require teams to create a team brand, work together and build robots to complete specific tasks during competitions. According to the FIRST Robotics website, “it’s as close to a real-world engineering as a student can get.” Annually, in the first week of January, FIRST Robotics releases the objective for the year and teams have six weeks to build their competition-ready robot. Competitions begin in March.
Steele said the team has opportunities for all students. Steele said although only a small group of students work on the competition robot (because they’ve taken the required classes and have previous experience and training), the team needs students with a wide-range of skills in order to be sustainable. The team is run like a company with different departments. In addition to programming, electronics and fabrication departments, the team was excited to add a new department this year – media. Students learned about photography and social media marketing which included making videos and managing the team’s social media accounts. Additionally, students interested in business helped with the team budget, purchasing and receiving.
“The biggest myth we want to dispel about the team is that it’s not just about the robot,” Steele said. “The team is also about volunteering and community. There are lots of different opportunities available if you’re not electronically- or engineering-minded. We can find a place for you.”
The group is supported by mentors who are community or industry professionals that volunteer up to 180 hours of their time during a season. Mentors include: Jeff Kerr, retired mechanical engineer; Zack Offen, self-employed design engineer; Ryan Shupe, programmer with DAFO in Ferndale; De Murr, retired, technical writer; Heather Bowhay, author and teacher; and David Gill, assistant professor of manufacturing engineering at Western Washington University. FIRST Alumni and Western students also offer guidance and assistance.
This growth of the team has helped lead the team to success and recognition. The Seamonsters were awarded FIRST’s Engineering Inspiration Award at the district competition at Mount Vernon High School in early March. The award recognized them for “outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within the team’s school and community.”
The success didn’t stop there. A few weeks later in mid-March the Seamonsters received the Imagery Award at a tournament in Yakima. This award celebrates attractiveness in engineering and outstanding visual aesthetic integration of machine and team appearance. The team must demonstrate a theme that is supportive of FIRST core values and the team must be unique and original.
Next year, Seamonsters and Bellingham High School will host a FIRST Robotics competition and expects up to 36 teams to attend. Steele hopes this will become a community event that will expand interest in the team.