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RHS team builds toward bright future

Six years ago, in 2008, Russellville Middle School teacher, Lee Brownell, won the Von Braun Aerospace Educator of the Year award.  At the award dinner, Mr. Brownell was encouraged to start a robotics team. The robotics team was created in 2008 and competed in their first competition in 2009. Russellville City Schools Robotics has been competing since then and the last four consecutive years have advanced to the final competition in Auburn.

“We have also helped several other schools start new teams,” said Brownell. “The team competes in an average of three competitions a year including the BEST Robotics competition and a Rocketry Competition.”

Every year the program is given the same materials and only 42 days to build the robot. What the robot has to do changes every year. This year the team had to design, construct and operate a robot that assembled a windmill. The robot was tasked with traveling to one side of a field to gather materials for the windmill and carry them across a bridge to the assembly site. Another part of the team marketed the robot by creating a presentation and a tradeshow booth. The team also competes in a spirit and sportsmanship competition where they get points for cheering for the team and cheering for and helping other teams. The season begins in the fall and the final competition in Auburn is always the first week in December. Forty students make up RCS Robotics and 60 percent of those are from the middle school.

“I am most proud of this year’s team because of their great video and the kids learned how to use our CNC machine,” Brownell said. “The team had another successful season, finishing in Auburn.”

Andrew Heath, a junior at Russellville High School and a member of the robotics team, said the whole process was an eye opener.

“I’ve been a part of this group since I was in sixth grade,” Heath said. “I want to go into mechanical engineering and being a part of this program has really helped me realize that.”

Heath and his colleagues built the robot from scratch and he said that was very rewarding.

“First we came up with design ideas and scored each one based on the ease of building it, the maintenance and the effectiveness of the final product,” Heath said. “After we settled on a design we started building the prototype with cardboard and moved on to the final product.

“We had to make a few tweaks along the way to some things,” Heath said. “After the first competition we had to change some of the specs that we had overestimated that were giving us problems before we got down to Auburn.”

Next on the team’s plate is a rocketry competition hosted by the National Association of Rocketry. The Team America Rocketry Challenge requires the team to construct a rocket that can reach a height of 800 ft. and stay in flight for 46 seconds among other things.

Brownell said he hopes the program continues to grow and that he hopes to be able to help other teams in the area as well.

“I want this program to continue to grow and do well and I want to be more involved with helping other teams,” Brownell said. “I want to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities to students and teachers at all levels over time. We have been very successful and I hope that continues, but I would like to get more people involved.”

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