O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon Girl Scout robotics team qualifies for state tourney

From left, Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois OOPS! Robotics FIRST Tech Challenge team mentor (and Purple Robot Penguins FIRST LEGO League team’s coach) Shannon Buchanan; Mary Buchanan (on both teams); Allie Huller (on both teams); Leah Watson; Chloe Schlosser; Megan Zaiz; Amber Smith; and, Mackenzie Butchee. Both teams are from the GSSI O’Fallon group. Not pictured from the OOPS! Robotics FTC team are: Coaches Kristi and Bob Smith, Kailee Schlosser, Allison Zaiz, Katie Buchanan and Skylar Van Driel.
From left, Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois OOPS! Robotics FIRST Tech Challenge team mentor (and Purple Robot Penguins FIRST LEGO League team’s coach) Shannon Buchanan; Mary Buchanan (on both teams); Allie Huller (on both teams); Leah Watson; Chloe Schlosser; Megan Zaiz; Amber Smith; and, Mackenzie Butchee. Both teams are from the GSSI O’Fallon group. Not pictured from the OOPS! Robotics FTC team are: Coaches Kristi and Bob Smith, Kailee Schlosser, Allison Zaiz, Katie Buchanan and Skylar Van Driel.

Girl Scouts isn’t just about cookies and camping — it’s also about coding technology and creating robots.

Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois involves much more than meets the eye, according to Mary Buchanan, GSSI program manager.

“This will be the GSSI FIRST LEGO League Purple Robot Penguins team’s third time going to the Illinois state competition,” said Buchanan.

The GSSI robotics program is for 9- to 14-year-olds, and is designed to get girls excited about science and technology, as well as teach them valuable life skills, according to Erin Johnson, GSSI manager.

GSSI has dedicated staff and volunteers who develop the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) program through research, training and hands-on experience.

The Purple Robot Penguins team was one of three, out of the area’s 12, that has qualified for the Illinois Central Championship tournament on Jan. 28 at University of Illinois in Champaign. A total of 64 teams will be competing.

“Since Illinois has over 550 FLL teams, ... we like for about 25 percent of the teams to advance; there is also an Illinois Northern Championship Tournament in Elgin, Ill.,” said Buchanan.

Since Illinois has over 550 FLL teams and we like for about 25 percent of the teams to advance there is also an Illinois Northern Championship Tournament in Elgin, Ill.

Mary Buchanan, GSSI program manager

The five O’Fallon team members are: Allie Huller, Lillian DeLucio, Kayla Conklin, Alexa Prouhet and Mary Buchanan, daughter of aforementioned GSSI program manager. The coaches are Larry Buchanan, Kristina Kutz and Shannon Buchanan.

“They won the Champion’s Award on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the FLL regional qualifier at Amelia Carriel Junior High School in O’Fallon,” Johnson said.

Nuts and bolts

Along with programming robots, teams are also evaluated on a research project, as well as how well they demonstrate FLL Core Values, which include teamwork, collective learning, active participation and gracious professionalism.

“In order to qualify for the state level, the team has to score highly in all three categories,” the elder Buchanan said. “Sixteen teams participate at the regional competitions. This year was a longer process for the team’s research project. This year, they looked at honey bees and problems with urban bee keeping. But the research project is totally separate from the robotics portion of the regional competition.”

Every year the FLL teams are given a theme to focus on. This year’s theme was “Animal Allies: Ways to improve interactions between humans and animals.”

“We came up with the idea, because certain bees are going onto the endangered species list, and we wanted to help other species from becoming extinct, so we met with a camp ranger and bee keeper to learn more,” the younger Mary Buchanan said about her team’s research.

Beekeepers Larry and Dawn Quicksall from Effingham, Ill., met with the girls. (Dawn is also the camp ranger at GSSI camp Wassatoga.)

The team came up with a beehive design similar to that of Russian nesting dolls, where the smaller dolls can be encapsulated by the larger dolls. The design solves the problem lack of storage space as being a part of a roof-top or container porch garden.

Looking in

Thirteen-year-old Mary Buchanan and Purple Robot Penguins team member Allie Huller are also on another GSSI robotics team called, “OOPS! Robotics,” a FIRST Tech Challenge team, too. The only difference between the two teams is the Purple Robot Penguins team has a research project, whereas the OOPS! Robotics team focuses more on the programming and engineering of a robot design and then competing. The FIRST Tech Challenge season starts in the beginning of September and ends in March.

Since Mary and Allie participate with both teams, they are doing robotics five nights a week from August to March.

“We meet for the PRP team two nights a week, so about 4 to 5 hours weekly, and we try to focus on the first part of our practices on the robotics designing, and then work on the project the second part, but we try to keep the meetings fun so we aren’t too stressed out,” the younger Mary said.

Rebecca Huller, Allie’s mother, said her daughter has been involved with robotics through GSSI since the third grade and has already begun meeting with a local FTC team to help transition to the high school level.

Allie has enjoyed programming so much that she aspires to become an engineer, Huller said.

They hope to win an award this year, but mainly they do it because it’s fun.

“The girls seem to improve each year. The FLL coaches have done a wonderful job teaching the girls about core values, team work, cooperation and most importantly — good sportsmanship,” Huller said. “To the girls it isn’t about winning but about learning and mentoring younger teams to help them reach the same level of success in the future.”

The girls seem to improve each year. The FLL coaches have done a wonderful job teaching the girls about core values, team work, cooperation and most importantly — good sportsmanship. To the girls it isn’t about winning but about learning and mentoring younger teams to help them reach the same level of success in the future.

Rebecca Huller, mother of a team member

Even with 12 to 15 hours a week spent on FLL and FTC, Allie is still able to manage her time well enough to allow her to pursue her athletic endeavors as well Huller said.

“She is dedicated to her lacrosse team and also enjoys running and softball. However, it is wonderful to see her interests expand outside of the sports arena. She is passionate about her team and mostly enjoys the outreach projects that allow her to share her robotics knowledge/experiences with others. There is a high need for young women to enter into science and math careers, and I am proud to say that her experience through FLL has certainly pointed her in that direction,” Huller said.

The youngest member to the FLL team, Lillian, 11, joined after participating in an archery workshop the Purple Robot Penguins team held as a part of the team’s FLL research in 2014.

Richard DeLucio, Lillian’s father, said team members were excited to learn of Lillian’s experience with LEGO robotics and offered her a spot on the team.

“The team was immediately successful that fall and for the first time qualified for the state tournament. They have improved upon that success to become regional champions in 2015 and 2016,” DeLucio said. “We’re very proud of our daughter and the team. Our daughter spends two to three nights a week in the fall discussing ideas, researching, coding, building and developing positive team camaraderie. As parents, we’re excited and proud to see the results at the FLL competitions held at Carriel Jr. High School.”

After months of practice and preparation, teams meet at regional qualifying tournaments to be graded on three elements, with top teams advancing to the state competition.

“We take a very hands-off approach to allow our daughter to put her full enthusiasm into her work. Up until last year, Lillian was a very devoted competitive soccer player. But had to give that up due to conflicts in practice times,” DeLucio said.

One of the major components of FLL is the project, which DeLucio said his daughter loves to research topics, take field trips, work as a team to develop a solution and finally present an informative and entertaining skit.

“These are skills that we know will be used her entire life. It’s made us proud as parents to see the girls extremely proud of their own hard work,” he said, representing he and his wife, Susan Corrigan. “We would like to say how grateful we are to the Buchanan family for volunteering their time, house and passion to work with our daughter and all the girls. They are great supporters of STEM and Girl Scouts in the southern Illinois area.”

Looking out

Buchanan, mother and GSSI manager, said, Southern Illinois FIRST is also looking for volunteers.

“The number of FIRST LEGO League teams has exploded in southern Illinois over the past few years. This year there were about 55 teams. Southern Illinois FIRST sponsored three tournaments which have a 48-team capacity. We would love to have enough volunteers to sponsor a fourth qualifier so that all southern Illinois teams can compete in this area and not have to travel,” she said.

GSSI GIR! FLL Robotics team of Staunton and GSSI SWAT FLL Robotics team of Troy were the other two teams to qualify for the state tourney.

For more information visit www.gsofsi.org or the GSSI Facebook page. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Erin Johnson at ejohnson@gsofsi.org.

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch

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