BAE Systems robot competition

Tenth-grader Talia Brock of Merrimack High School, left, and 11th-grader Tabitha Stevens of Alvirne High School in Hudson, make some last-minute modifications to their robot before the second round of competition of the FOCUS competition at Southern New Hampshire University.

Swapping out mortarboards for motherboards, 18 high school students on Wednesday went head to head in a robotics challenge as part of a graduation ceremony unlike any other on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University.

The students, a mix of juniors and seniors from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, were the latest class of graduates from FOCUS, or Fostering Opportunities for Careers Utilizing STEM, a 10-week after school program run by defense contractor BAE systems that’s designed to prepare students for careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Over the course of the last 10 weeks, students worked in teams to use robotics kits to develop, engineer and program four-wheeled robots that could pick up plastic rings and place them on designated locations in order to score points inside of a rectangular arena.

In addition to the construction of the robots, teams were also tasked with completing their projects within a set time and budget, and introducing their designs in a client presentation such as an engineer would face.

“We try to simulate, as best we can, what it would be like to be an engineer,” said BAE engineering development manager Stephanie Livsey, who oversees the company’s FOCUS program.

“We try to give these students a leg up in regard to what it would be like to have the job. It’s not always as easy as what you may do in school, where you’re designing something on paper, or you don’t actually get to build it, test it and prove that it works. There’s a lot of surprises that come up along the way when you’re an engineer, so giving them that hands-on experience is really important, too.”

Citing an aging workforce of Baby Boomers within the engineering field, including within BAE Systems itself, Livsey says programs like FOCUS are the company’s way to begin taking proactive steps toward training the next generation of engineers to move into the skills vacuum that a generation of retiring workers are poised to leave in the industry.

“As a company, we can’t hire fast enough right now,” Livsey said. “Just like in, I’m sure, many other industries, so many people are eligible for retirement in the next five to 10 years that we need to start engaging with all of the new junior talent that we can get.”

One of those junior talents in Wednesday night’s graduating class was 17-year-old Tabitha Stevens of Alvirne High School in Hudson, who says she’s been interested in learning how things work for as long as she can remember.

“I love the math and science aspect of it,” says Stevens of engineering. “I love figuring out how things work. My whole life I’ve looked at things and wondered about the function behind them, even things as simple as hand sanitizer or a button.”

While she can’t get enough of subjects like electrical engineering and chemistry, Stevens stated speaking to large groups of people, as she did during the night’s graduation while she and her team presented their robot design, was something she hadn’t done prior to FOCUS.

“We had a day where we just practiced presenting,” she said. “We did improv, and it was so scary, but it was helpful. We did a project as well with a presentation and finally today, I was fine. So, I’m really thankful that they did that because I don’t think I ever would have gotten that skill at school.”

Although she stated that she plans to look into colleges such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Worcester Polytechnic Institute over the summer, Stevens says she’s currently focused on learning as much as she can about the subjects she’s most interested in.

“I want to learn everything, I want to learn every aspect and it’s so hard to decide between electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. I want to do it all. I’m really just looking forward to going as far as I can in this career, and who knows what I’ll make one day?”{/div}

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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