A series of "FIRSTS" for robotics team at Rosati-Kain High School

Sid Hastings

Youngsters Nichole and Elena Kellogg stopped at Rosati-Kain's pit area on the event floor at Chaifetz Arena, and freshman Cassie Kightlinger wasted no time in greeting them and telling all about the Rosati-Kain group.

Think, "all-girls robotics team" ... repeated often.

Best of all, she brought them inside the tent for an up-close look at "Guilly," Rosati-Kain's robot.

The Rosati-Kain team, better known as SistamatiK (a take-off on systematic), named their robot Guilly because the lifting mechanism absent the hook/bracket for actual lifting resembled Marie Antoinette's worst nightmare.

Kightlinger showed the Kellogg girls the guts of the robot -- motors, wireless router and camera for driving, bicycle chains, hook and "guillotine" for lifting, and an Xbox controller for driving and joystick for lifting.

Built from scratch in a mandated and pressure-packed six-week timespan -- Jan. 3 to Feb. 17 -- Guilly is an impressive piece of equipment, with a square chassis for driving and a 4-foot triangular upper body for lifting. For the recycling theme this year, robots maneuvered in the competition area then lifted and stacked totes and garbage cans, while cooperating -- called, "coopertition" -- with partners on three-robot teams.

Guilly had a feminine touch, too -- a black bow attached to the triangular upper portion. Team members also wore black bows in their hair, except for mentor Danny Martinez of Boeing. The only male associated with the team, he used his as a bow tie after a brief tryout atop his head.

After exiting the tent, the Kellogg girls were asked whether an all-girls robotics team was and is cool.

They nodded in the affirmative, no words necessary.

SistamatiK accomplished a couple of important firsts by competing March 19-21 in the St. Louis Regional of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition at Chaifetz. Not only was this their rookie year but they were the first XX-chromosome team in the St. Louis Regional.

Kightlinger made certain to share that little nugget with the many visitors to the Rosati-Kain area. Throughout the three-day event, Kightlinger served as unofficial team ambassador, handing out team pins and literature, and talking about the robot and, most importantly, the team.

Her message was simple: "We're an all-girls team, and we're doing this."

"We're trying to promote, especially to girls, that you can do this work," said Kightlinger, who also helped the build team and waded through the many competition rules and the robot specs. "We're a group of girls ... and we did this. Girls can do this, too. Guys can do this. Everyone can do this."

The team formed in partnership with the St. Louis Science Center and the Girl Scouts, who both wanted to get involved with a girls robotics team. SistamatiK received a grant from NASA, and Boeing and Rockwell Automation came on board with sponsorship and mentors -- Danny Martinez and Dani Shearman from Boeing, and Rosati-Kain alum Laura Dankel, who was with Rockwell Automation when the team started.

"We sort of got into it by accident," said Rosati-Kain physics teacher Lauren Lester, the team coach.

Potential team members shadowed the team from Gateway STEM High School, the longest running team in the local competition, and Lester recruited heavily at Rosati-Kain in the first semester -- flyers, announcements, you name it.

On Jan. 3 when the build started, 14 students were on board, providing expertise in multiple areas, not just in building the robot.

"The cool thing about this is that there are so many roles," Lester said. "Marketing, social media, charity work, fund-raising. We have students participating who do all the flyers, or work on essays for awards. There's something for everybody."

Sophomores Annie Hilker and Rachel Porter were up for the St. Louis Region Dean's Award, Hilker for designing and operating the lifting mechanism and Porter for her work on the team's essays. The NASA grant required the team to apply for the prestigious Chairman's Award, even though as a rookie team, Rosati-Kain was ineligible to win. Hilker also served as team captain, with Alex Porter as the lead driver and Eleanor Daues as her backup.

"It makes you reflect on your effort over time," Lester said.

Even though Rosati-Kain didn't compete in the finals -- 24 teams advanced out of 43 -- the reflection was that the competition, time and effort were well worth it.

"We did the best we could and put everything in there," said Hilker, who described the competition as "very exciting. Our robot did what it was supposed to and accomplished what we wanted it to."

And Team SistamatiK is better for it. This was only their first step, as Hilker noted: "We took what we had, and we'll build on it for next year."

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