Leading 1418 to victory

Julia Bonilla, Staff Reporter

Captains Sofia Heartney (left) and Sarah Fong (middle) work on the robot in the MakerSpace. (Photo by Stella Turner)

Seniors Sarah Fong, Tahaseen Shaik, and Sofia Heartney speak of their four-year journey in the robotics team with wide glittering eyes, due to both nostalgia for their tight-knit community, and a melancholic reminder of their soon to be goodbye. 

The three of them are this year’s captains of the robotics team – Team 1418. Their leadership and their contribution to the team’s dynamic goes beyond just the construction of a robot. They’ve worked to make 1418 an inclusive sanctuary of similarly driven people.

This year’s game challenge is called “Infinite Recharge,” and is Star Wars themed with an emphasis on sustainability. The challenge’s primary game element is a yellow gator ball, called a power cell. Their robot collects power cells and shoots them into towers of three different levels, corresponding with different numbers of points. Then, at the end of the game, the robot uses a climbing mechanism to climb a “giant clothing hanger,” worth more points. 

The game is 2 minutes and 15 seconds long and takes place in a basketball-sized field. The competing teams and their robots are organized on different “alliances.” 

“During the first 15 seconds the robots have to operate on their own and the rest of the time the drivers operate it, and in the last 30 seconds, that’s when the endgame starts, when the clothes hanger thing comes into play,” Shaik said.

In order to prepare for the intense, complicated competition, the team put in hours and hours of work. For Shaik, the long hours spent working with her teammates are an investment. “There are definitely times when it can get super tiring staying so late, working every day and on the weekends too,” she said. 

“It eats up a lot of time that could be used somewhere else, in terms of academics and extracurriculars, but the three of us have been doing this for the past four years and we definitely feel like it’s worth it. To see the robot finally work and be able to compete successfully is definitely a feeling that’s super satisfying.”

When reflecting on their proudest moments throughout their experience on the team, the captains did not bring up their competitive successes, but celebrated their influence on the overall environment of the team.

Heartney said she’s most proud of the work she did on making the team more welcoming. “This year we took Sundays off which we haven’t done before and I think it’s helped more people be encouraged to join,” she said. “We’ve also put an emphasis on learning the basic skills, so you don’t need all this prior knowledge to come to the team.”

student works on a robot
Captain Sofia Heartney works on the robot. The captains have worked hard to create a welcoming, collaborative environment for the team. (Photo by Stella Turner)

Shaik was similarly enthusiastic about the team’s progression into a diverse and inclusive community. “We’ve worked a lot to make it easier for different types of people to join the team.”

“I remember when we joined as freshmen, there weren’t a lot of girls on the team and the girls that were on the team weren’t really in important positions. So I feel like through our journey on the team and definitely during our time as captains, we’ve been able to improve the number of girls on the team and girls that stay and work on the robot in key positions.”

The captains make sure to put an emphasis on unity and cooperation.

 “I’m really proud of the fact that we’re more united this year and leadership is just more collective and open, which is something that we’ve really been trying to work towards for the past few years, and I’m hoping that we can continue that trend,” Fong said.

Through their leadership this year and their extensive experience on the team, the captains are sad to see their time on the team draw to a close.

“I think spending so much time with these people really just develops a bond,” Fong said. “I would say we’ve definitely grown closer over the past four years from spending so much time together, and since this is our last year I personally think it’s a bit bittersweet just because this is the last time that I’ll spend so much time with these people.”

The team made it to Quarterfinals at their February 29 competition and were working to improve their robot even more. Future competitions have been postponed due to COVID-19 precautions.