Skunkworks turmoil sparks debates over future of team

On 17 Oct. 2017, students, mentors, and parents of the Skunkworks Robotics Team met with RAHS administration to discuss what the future robotics team would look like.

With the departure of Coach Robert Steele from the RAHS Skunkworks Robotics Team, questions and uncertainties remained about the team’s future. This has prompted discussions and debates amongst the robotics members, coaches, and administration over what that future would look like.

For RAHS Principal Therese Tipton, having a robotics team led by students and student input is critical.

“Some of the things, and this thinking comes straight from the students and some of their questions, is to make sure that they [the robotics students] have a voice in looking at their budget, and travel options, and things like that,” said Tipton.

In addition, this means making sure that students have a role in fundraising for the team and choosing their leaders.

“[I want the students to try to have] things like having a real role in their fundraising and maybe even developing some sources for donations,” said Tipton. “In creating their team leadership structure, as opposed to someone being just appointed, they could gather together and could have an election process like other teams do. Just things like that where they really feel like they [the robotics students] have ownership, that they have a voice.”

RAHS senior and robotics member Ailis Waddill believes that having a robotics team that is front and center within the school is important both for the future of the team and for the the school.

“Coming into this school as a freshman, if I hadn’t had robotics, my whole outlook could have been changed,” said Waddill. “For our future generations, I want to leave behind a legacy at our school for everyone else to be a part of.”

Waddill wants the team this year to improve its image amongst other robotics teams.

“I’m hoping that will give us the chance to be a little more humble and respect the other team in the community and make friends,” said Waddill, “because Skunkworks didn’t have a lot of friends in other teams, and my goal is to change that this year.”

On the other hand, RAHS senior and robotics member Izzie Torres hopes that whatever robotics team develops this year is one that is centered on mentorship.

“One of the biggest values that I have and that FIRST [the governing robotics organization] has is that through FRC [the league Skunkworks is in] you are supposed to learn from your mentors,” said Torres, “and this whole season I was really looking forward with our mechanical engineering mentor to learn about stress and strain and basically how to design something and not just CAD at random.”

Another robotics member, senior Erin Demaree, concurs with Torres, though she also stresses student unity on the team.

“I really do value having mentors interact with students because I know I’ve learned a lot from them,” said Demaree. “I know I really value a real team-work ideal, where everyone is working together. I don’t care if we win or not — that’s always cool — but I really like the idea of all the students working together because that makes competitions so much fun.”

Despite these differences, Tipton hopes that the team can move forward.

“First order of business is ensuring that we have students, parents, and mentors helping select a new coach as soon as possible,” said Tipton.

In line with her view that students should have a key role in the future of the robotics team, Tipton had RAHS robotics students create the criteria for selecting the new coach.

“I actually had the students create a job description, and of course they would love someone who has knowledge of FIRST, and competitions,” said Tipton, “but barring that, someone who is really willing to learn, someone who is a real positive leader and who will encompass the student voice, who will really listen, and just take the team and really help lead to really work with the mentors.”

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