Mentors look to help Spruce Mountain robotics program

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During a recent SMART #3930 meeting with potential mentors, team members Izak Chapman at left and Orion Schwab work on a computer program. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)

JAY — Last week members of Spruce Mountain Area Robotics Team #3930 were visited by Joseph and Leah O’Brien, potential new mentors for the program.

The O’Briens were active with a robotics team in Washington state. They are in the process of moving to Maine and are looking to build a long-term relationship with one or more Maine teams.

Joseph said he spent 32.5 years at Boeing before retiring. Most recently he was in charge of AWACS, an American airborne early warning and control aircraft derived from the Boeing 707.

“I was responsible for the safety of all 72 aircraft. If there was an in-flight emergency I was the first one on call. I knew all the mission equipment, airplane functions in and out. I was the approval authority to get new equipment on those airplanes. I worked there for 15 years.,” he said.

Prior to that he worked on the inertial upper stage that went into the space shuttle launch systems for the satellites Ulysses, Galileo and Magellan. He spent about 10 years being responsible for the safety of all the mechanical and software systems inside the payload bay.

Previously he had worked on the Minuteman and Peacekeeper missile systems that were launched out of Boeing-52 bombers.

“It was purely autonomous. I could fly it through a keyhole after 1,500 miles. It was a pretty darn accurate system,” he said.

Joseph retired five years ago. Two years ago he began working with Fair Metal Team #2046. The first year he mentored, the team did very well. Last year, it lost in the quarterfinals.

“The team won more awards in the last two years than it did in the previous 13 years. We won seven or eight banners over the last two years,” he said. “While at Boeing I was the lead of the lead engineers. One of my most prized achievements is being nominated for the Mentor of the Year award by the kids last year.”

Leah O’Brien works at Boeing in fabrication. She makes parts from composites, super plastic, titanium and other metals. Some robots are used. She has three and a half more years to reach retirement age.

“I’m now figuring out how to help designers make their designs with less impact to reduce repetitive motion and stress injuries,” she said.

SMART programming co-captain Orion Schwab said, “We’ve come a long way in the last year in programming. I know five times more than I did at this time last year.”

SMART advisor Daniel Lemieux said programming and some of the higher end engineering is a weakness for his team.

“We know how to play the game. We break down the game very well to defeat all the obstacles. We don’t always know how to build what we want to.

“It’s hard in this community. We’re not rich with industry. We have fantastic mentors but could use more. I’m juggling too many things and can’t focus on one entity as much as I’d like to,” he said.

SMART member Isak Chapman said he was interested in programming and the drive team.

“Programming interests me. It baffles me that I can imagine something and make it with a few lines of code. You can do so much with it.

“Driving is fun. Playing a lot of video games helps,” Isak said.

Spruce Mountain Area Robotics Team #3930 held a meeting recently with current and potential mentors. Pictured from left are Advisor Daniel Lemieux, team member Brady Teague and Joseph O’Brien an engineer who recently retired from Boeing. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)

SMART member Alex Decker is taking computer classes at Foster Carer and Technical Education Center, part of the Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington. Last year he built two 3-Dimensional printers. One will be available for SMART to use once some issues are worked out.

Lemieux said, “When things are going right, the kids do it all themselves. Win, lose or draw, I’d rather have the kids do it than have us step in.”

SMART member Owen Wilkins is on the drive team and helps out with programming and building.

“I try to help out with all the other things,” Owen said.

His mother, Jennifer Wilkins, is a SMART mentor.

“This is all new, sometimes over my head. I’m a great cheerleader. I like to carpool, fund raise, anything else that’s needed,” Jennifer said.

For Sarah Delaney, this is her sixth year as a SMART mentor.

“My first daughter is a Junior at UMaine studying mechanical engineering and environmental science. She’s not afraid of anything. FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is a good confidence builder. She’s one of the few females left in her program.

“My second daughter just graduated and is studying to be an astrophysicist. She didn’t like to build robots. She was the thinker,” Sarah said.

“She was a fantastic scouting captain. She worked behind the scenes to make sure everything was working,” Lemieux said.

During a recent SMART #3930 meeting with potential mentors, team members Drew Delaney at left and Owen Wilkins work on a robot. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)

Sarah added, “She understood the robot, loved the power of scouting. It’s helping her in school. She’s not afraid of anyone.”

Delaney’s son Drew is a builder, was a drive team coach at the end of last year.

“I’m a cat herder, do whatever is needed. My husband and I know this is a great program. Kids who start out shy can talk to people, go in to amazing majors. Just because they are from a small town they don’t see any reason they can’t do it.

“We will do anything we can to help,” Sarah said.

Joseph said 98 percent of FRC students go on to associated careers.

“A recent report lists Maine number one in education. Not many industries support that,” he said.

Lemieux said, “Rob Taylor, another mentor and Spruce Mountain teacher, and I are educators first. If kids aren’t doing well in their studies, they get pulled off the team to get back on track. We’re in it for the educational part rather than winning. That can get in the way sometimes with other people.”

SMART won the Chairman’s Award last year. It has won Safety eight times and Entrepreneurship four times.

“We’ve finished as a semi-finalist many times, lost in the finals once.

“Our kids are active in sports, music, drama. We try to schedule around everything. We’re constantly juggling,” Lemieux said.

During the six week build season, the team meets Tuesday and Thursday after school until 9 p.m. and all day Saturday. Some Sundays are used to make up snow days.

“Our kids do everything, know how to use everything. I’m very proud of that. Other teams, the mentors build the robots,” Sarah said.

SMART currently has about 20 members. For more information on mentoring or to student involvement, email Lemieux at dlemieux@rsu73.com, Taylor at rtaylor@rsu73.com or stop by their home rooms.

pharnden@sunmediagroup.net