The Journey Begins…
Cybergnomes Robotics is on a journey to change the culture of our community. What began in a small rural school (pop 320) with 10 students has grown to 17 competitive teams, 3 local competitions across 3 robotics platforms and includes 7 weeks of STEM daycamp and over 30 outreach events each year. The team is still small (13) and works out of a small community of 14,000 but our impact is BIG.
The journey began in 2007, in Stayner Ontario. Two teachers and 10 students decided it would be great to start a team to compete in FIRST. They were the only robotics team in Simcoe County. In fact they were one of the only extracurricular STEM opportunities in Simcoe County.
In 2014, only three competitive robotics teams existed in Simcoe County. Students and mentors wanted to see more opportunities for kids in STEM education in other communities.
So our outreach journey began. Cybergnomes travelled to the Children’s Festival,the Great Northern Exhibition, local farmer’s markets, and Parades. We opened our doors to students from across Simcoe County, providing access to the team for anyone interested. In 2014-2015, we had members from 10 schools. We attend over 30 outreach events each year promoting the team and the benefits of FIRST through hands-on activities like robot driving where kids could earn their ‘License’,robo-soccer and Sumo-bots.
In 2016 we provided programs for libraries in Barrie, Collingwood, Wasaga, Creemore, New Lowell, Stayner and Innisfil. We developed a 6 week robotics curriculum for the Barrie Library. We added air shows, innovation expos, maker fairs, health fairs, craft shows, and more to our list of events we attend.
In 2015, we reached out to our local school board through a meeting with the engineering and comp science teachers to encourage schools to start FRC teams. We connected with principals from high schools and elementary schools, met with our local trustee as well as the Principal of Innovation at the Board office. It has been a long process but we are finally seeing the fruits of our work as VEX and FLL teams begin to start up in schools across our County.
As a rural team, many of us travel 30 to 45 minutes to get to our shop. It was time to work at seeding new teams. We reached out to libraries in 6 communities, met with the mayors of 4 and talked to parents and teachers throughout the county. The result was a growth in robotics programs to 17 competitive teams across Simcoe County in two years:
1 Jr FLL team (assisted), 4 FLL teams (started 2, mentor 3), 5 VEX IQ teams (started 4, mentor 2), 5 VRC teams (started 2, mentor 2) and 2 FRC teams (started/mentor the rookie team).
Going beyond competitive robotics, one member of our team has worked with a science teacher at Jean Vanier High School in Collingwood to integrate robotics into their grade 9 general science class.
We have brought 3 competitive robotics events to Simcoe County. The first VEX IQ event in the county was hosted and run by the Gnomes on Feb 4th of 2017. We hosted a VRC event for high school students on January 17th with the Mayor of Barrie opening the event, and we are helping Georgian College host the new FRC district event in March. For the VEX events, we give local Simcoe County teams their registration costs back to use to strengthen their own programs.
Holding these events in our region has been a lightning rod for getting students into robotics. We are working with or have heard from schools in New Lowell, Orillia, Barrie, Collingwood and Alliston who wish to start new teams for the 2018 year.
On March 1st, the Gnomes and their partner teams will take part in the Train in Technology Expo at the Barrie Molson Centre. This will bring hundreds of students together to showcase opportunities in STEM education. We will be holding a VEX scrimmage at the event and showing off our FRC robot..
Along with seeding new teams, the Cybergnomes journeyed to 7 communities in the summer of 2016 to offer Robotics day camps to youth from 8 to 14. These camps offered students a way to connect with local teams and engage with competitive robotics in a fun and unique way.
In 2015 we noticed a lack of girls in our FRC program, leading us to create the CyberGirls, an all girls VEX robotics team. The Cybergnomes lead mentor and female students on the FRC team mentor these girls with the hope of having them one day join the Cybergnomes FRC team. Currently 10 girls ages 9 to 13 are on the local CyberGirls teams and one has moved up to the Cybergnomes.
Reaching out to industry…
Some of the most important things about Cybergnomes Robotics are the relationships we build with our sponsors. Over 50 businesses support the team in different ways – from donations to mentorships. These include corporations like Honda of Canada, Prodomax, and Innovative Automation along with small local businesses. Engineers from our sponsors now meet regularly with the students during build season. In 2016, Cybergnomes students presented Stronghold and a variety of design ideas to the engineers at Prodomax in the first week of build. This also gave Prodomax and in depth look at the values of FIRST and the commitment of the youth on the team.
By securing Honda as a sponsor, we paved the way for other area teams to receive support from Honda including 4943 and 6336.
We want to make sure our sponsors are included in all things Cybergnomes so we release a monthly email to keep our supporters updated. We invite sponsors to our kickoff event. This allows them to see the impact their support has made. We host a sponsor thank you night, where our sponsors are invited to a free dinner with Cybergnome servers. Students on the team use Sumobots to provide hands-on activities for sponsors at their staff Christmas parties and other events. Cybergnomes have also volunteered for many sponsors in order to show our appreciation,
The relationships we build with our sponsors have led to many job opportunities, co-ops and internships for our students. In the past 3 years, we have had 15 students receive jobs and internships due to their involvement with the Cybergnomes.
Reaching out to FIRST….
The effort of the Cybergnomes has also led to greater support for FIRST Canada. In 2014, Cybergnomes travelled to Toronto to deliver a presentation to OACETT, one of our existing sponsors. They were overwhelmed by the student’s professionalism and knowledge and chose in 2015 to significantly increase their contribution by supporting FIRST Canada and providing $25,000 in shared funding for all Ontario teams attending the World Championships.
In the fall of 2016, the Cybergnomes approached FIRST Canada and Georgian College with the idea of starting a new event in Barrie.The idea was received with enthusiasm by the College, the mayor of Barrie and a number of our team’s sponsors. The team continues to help support the event, securing judges, and volunteers along with sponsors. The team will be working with setup/take down crew to prepare for the competition and many of our alumni will be volunteering there.
In addition, Cybergnomes Robotics will be providing many pieces of machining equipment including a portable lathe, drill press, and welder for the machine shops at the Georgian event and the North Bay event.
For the past three years, the Cybergnomes have travelled to Calgary to attend the Western Canada Regional. An important reason why we go is to assist younger teams by helping with programming, robot repairs and design issues. The Cybergnomes have assisted many teams including: 4627, 5597, 4625, and 4719, and 6178. 6178’s robot arrived at the event oversized and needing changes to its code. Our programmer spent hours in their pit helping reprogram and rebuild the robot. 6178 went on to be a part of the final alliance that we had to compete against. This past fall we lent our robot to team 2994 to play at the STEMly cup and help train their team after a 1 year break.
During the 2014-2015 season, we invited Team 4943 to our shop to collaborate on ideas and designs. We also invited them to the programming and CAD workshops we ran and hosted. The Cybergnomes also developed and presented a pneumatics training workshop at SWATposium.
This year we started FRC team 6336 and mentor them weekly. To kick start their team we donated our 2015 competition robot to them.
Building relationships, not just robots…
At the end of each season, the team hosts a campout called Gnome Camp. We invite several FRC teams and run workshops and other fun robotics activities. In 2014 we played paintball skeet with our frisbee robots, this past year we invited the OPP bomb squad to bring up their robot to play stronghold against us.
In 2014, 2016 and 2017, we ran and hosted a kick off. This year we hosted it at the township council office where sponsors, community supporters, and the newly formed Javawockies 6336 could join us for the reveal of the game. This was a great opportunity to make sure our rookie team started on the right foot into build season.
Many of our alumni continue with FIRST, helping at the regionals, off season events and mentoring teams like 5406. The Cybergnomes teach more than building a robot, students learn teamwork, confidence, leadership and public speaking. Students are expected to deliver presentations on FIRST robotics to service groups and organizations throughout the year. Many of these organizations become sponsors of the team.
We are a small team, just 13 students, but through hard work and a commitment to STEM learning, our journey has taken us to some amazing places. The cybergnomes have been from one side of Simcoe County to the other. We have provided opportunities for students of all ages, connected with diverse industry leaders and we have shared the values of FIRST everywhere we have gone. We are excited to see where 2017 will bring us, and we have many things we plan to do and many places we plan to go.