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How a Rookie Team from Quebec Took FIRST Robotics by Storm

April 4, 2016

The lovely little town of Trois Riveres, Quebec lies on the northwest banks of the famed St. Lawrence River, about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City in Canada. Although it was founded over 400 years ago, this city certainly doesn’t live in the past.

Trois Riveres is the home of Ultime’, FIRST Robotics Team 5528.

At 3:30pm on a cool overcast day at the Keranna School, classes have ended for the day. While the majority of the students rush out the doors to head home, about 20 students are excitedly chattering down the Keranna School’s science hallway. The hallway has been painted to represent global scientific achievements, and one of the doors on the right is labeled “Robotique FIRST”.

As darkness quickly creeps into the overcast sky, the Robotique FIRST room on the second floor of the school is shining like a beacon.

Here, high school students are gathering to work on their robot, named Atlas. Atlas drives, spins, lifts, and moves both in pre-programmed and in remote controlled ways. It was built by these students for the FIRST Robotics competition, an international robot-building competition for which FedEx donates shipping, money, and mentors.

Team Ultime organized last year, after Nickolas Behm moved to Trois Riveres from Montreal, where he was a mentor for a different team. Nickolas saw that there were no FIRST teams in Trois Riveres, so he invited another team to come to the Keranna School to do a demonstration. The Keranna students were immediately hooked and Ultime was born.

The mentors and teachers had great confidence in the enthusiasm and abilities of their students right away. In fact, when they learned that FIRST Championships are held in St. Louis every year, they immediately told all the students to make sure that their passports were current, because “We are going to win and go to Championships!”

And win they did.

Not only did Ultime win their way to Championships, but as a rookie team they completely embraced everything about FIRST, which means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

Marie-Pier Casavant is a teacher at Keranna, and says, “Consider one of our students, Christophe. Something that we see commonly with FIRST has happened with him. Christophe is very quiet in class; we almost never hear from him. But in FIRST he has blossomed into such a brilliant leader.”

She continues, “Schools and the education system have physics and science classes which focus on theory, but we must remember that kids want to do hands-on work, to see things in action. FRC gives students the chance to connect theory to practice. “

Ultime entered the FedEx / FIRST social media contest called the Innovation Challenge, shining with creativity and energy, again coming out a winner. Ultime won a $10,000 grant for their team through the Innovation Challenge.

The funding came as a perfectly timed extra boost to keep Ultime sustained as more than just a one-time participant in FIRST. It helped Ultime build a robotics program. The money was used to create the dedicated “Robotique FIRST” school room, and to start a program for younger students, called FIRST Lego League. This team is designed to serve as a feeder for students to develop their skills for more advanced FIRST Robotics Competitions.

Another creative way that Ultime used their Innovation Challenge winnings came in the form of Zephyr. Zephyr is smaller than Atlas and thus much easier to transport. Ultime uses Zephyr in their outreach, marketing and promotional efforts as they bring the message of science education to their community.

In fact, the kids of Ultime built Zephyr on their own over the summer, without any direction from teachers or mentors. That’s the kind of passion that FIRST inspires.

Charles Lavoie, a member of Ultime’s Mechanical Design team summed up his experience: “I looked out and thought ‘if those other students can do this, I can too!’ FIRST inspired me to look at the entire world differently. It makes me see the world as a scientist. For me, before FIRST, science was just another subject.

“Now I want my career and my entire life to be science.”

  • Ultime wins FedEx Innovation Challenge in 2015

  • Building the robot for the 2016 competition season.

  • Using winnings from the FedEx Innovation Challenge, a dedicated Robotique FIRST room was created at the Kerana School for Ultime.

  • Ultime members working on their robot after school

  • With technological dreams all around them, boys and girls at Kerana School gather to work on FIRST Robotics

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