Option 16 restarts in-person outreach, mentors students in robotics workshops

Cara Tran, Staff Writer

Aric Volman (9) looks over a program written by a member of the Adobe Bluffs FLL challenge teams for their competition robot. Volman worked with about 15 other Option 16 members to deliver FLL mentoring to students at Adobe Bluffs and Deer Canyon. Photo by Cara Tran.

Option 16, the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) team, held its largest outreach event since the start of the school year, Oct. 16. With 15 Westview students acting as mentors, Option 16 hosted two FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams from Deer Canyon Elementary School and seven FLL teams from Adobe Bluffs Elementary School. In total, the WV Robotics team was able to mentor and teach more than 30 elementary students.           

This event was the third mentoring session Option 16 has had in-person since COVID-19. According to Robotics Vice President Rayyan Nasser (12), COVID-19 made it a lot harder for Option 16 to engage closely with students and perform outreach activities. But now that schools have opened back up, Option 16 has been able to restart their in-person outreach events and service more local schools. According to Nasser, this is a development that most members of the team are excited about, especially himself.

“I feel really happy returning to in-person outreach,” Nasser said. “While we did our best to replicate the experience virtually, some things couldn’t be replaced, like the atmosphere created when kids are running around, excited to see their friends at an event with them, or watching them run off to show off what they just built. I’m glad we were able to go back to this type of outreach.”

Currently, Option 16 holds weekly mentoring sessions at Westview for PUSD elementary schools with FLL and other robotics teams. At the Oct. 16 mentoring event, Option 16 had three main activities the students could participate in. Younger students who were a part of the FLL Explore teams were given limited materials like straws, tape, paper clips, and Legos to build either the tallest towers or sturdiest bridges within a certain time limit. 

“These events were targeted towards getting students thinking about different aspects of a design, about what they wanted their result to be, and about what the steps and process of making it happen might look like,” President Ella Godun (12) said. “Our goal in this session was to get the kids to know their mentors, get them thinking like engineers, and getting everyone comfortable with each other for the future sessions.”

Students participating in FLL Challenge were able to work with mentors on robots that they plan to use during competition. Students from Adobe Bluffs worked with high school mentors to refine and improve their programs and robots. 

Outside of these on-site mentoring sessions, Option 16 also travels to other schools to deliver mentoring. For instance, Nasser and other team members go to Black Mountain Middle School to mentor their First Tech Challenge (FTC) and FLL teams every Thursday evening. Option 16 also plans to host larger outreach events where students are invited to Westview for an entire day of learning. According to Godun, the next major event Option 16 will host is the upcoming Girl Scouts Workshop, which will be held in mid-January. With all of these events, Option 16 hopes to encourage more students to participate in STEAM and become critical thinkers and engineers. 

“Even with our students, what we want them to do is learn,” Godun said. “That’s the whole Option 16 culture: getting as many people into STEAM and doing STEAM hands-on. We want everyone to get that experience having fun with [STEAM]. That’s a huge part of our team.”

This is something that Nasser agreed with. According to Nasser, outreach is an important part of Option 16. 

“Outreach is what makes me feel that Robotics is more than just the technical stuff,” Nasser said. “Beyond the metal parts, wires, and code is the interpersonal relationships, the connections we’re making, and the people we’re inspiring. The reason we do so much outreach in Option 16 is because of our firm belief in the idea of being more than just robots. Bringing our knowledge, experiences, and resources to our community is one of our integral values. It is what we’re really all about.”