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GPR members, top row (L-R): Olivia Berger, Molly Breakstone, Shweta Karmaker, Udithi Kothapalli. Bottom row: Darienne Rogers, Grace Constantino and Sofia Rubinson.

Photo by Jyoti Kothapalli

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ISLIP—The Islip Girl Powered Robotics team is now in its second year. When the team was founded last year, it was self-funded and started by the girls themselves. This year, the team has expanded to become affiliated with the Islip School District. The group is also a participant of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). 

Teams in the FIRST Tech Challenge design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head alliance format. Students learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills while also realizing the value of hard work, innovation and sharing ideas. Teams raise funds, design and market their brand, and do community outreach for which they can win awards. 

Olivia Berger heard about FIRST robotics in eighth grade and joined in 10th grade. She has been a member of GPR since one of the group’s first meetings over a year ago. “The FIRST Tech Challenge has allowed me to further pursue my interest in engineering,” Berger said. “I am glad to have such a great experience with FIRST, and I couldn’t be happier to watch our team expand and grow as we compete.”

Molly Breakstone found FIRST through her close friends. She said coming into such an intense competition as a freshman was completely new for her, and it was a different area of the STEM field she had never explored before. “Now, as a sophomore, I am so grateful for GPR, my experiences with them, and the FIRST Tech Challenge as a whole,” Breakstone added.

FIRST was founded in 1989 with the goal of peaking young people’s interest in science and technology. Based in Manchester, N.H., the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity aims to motivate children to pursue education in STEM-related fields, as well as career opportunities fit for the 21st century. 

Shweta Karmaker has been interested in robotics since her sophomore year and is considering a field related to robotics or taking courses independently. “Robotics allowed me to take principles of engineering and apply them to real life, including problem solving and engineering design,” Karmaker said. “The values of FIRST always remind me to help out my peers and be kind to others. I’m hoping the values of FIRST will be used throughout the community and change the mindset of adolescents into striving to make a positive impact on the world.”

Udithi Kothapalli became fascinated with FIRST when she learned about it in the sixth grade. She says all the core values she learned from the program have helped her become a better person overall. “The amazing experiences that we encounter are incredible,” Kothapalli said. “I am proud to be a participant of FIRST as the program helped me to better understand STEM. I have been in FIRST for four years and I am excited to continue through my senior year as well. I can’t wait to meet new friends, encounter new opportunities and learn new things.”

Dr. Brian Brachio, a teacher who has been working with FIRST for over 20 years, acts as the girls’ team mentor. Parent coordinator Jyoti Kothapalli says Dr. B is an “excellent mentor.”

Darienne Rogers found out about FIRST robotics in seventh grade and now, as a sophomore, couldn’t be happier about the formation of GPR and the group’s commitment to compete every year. “FIRST has helped me discover my passion of engineering and sparked my interest in pursuing biomedical engineering in the future,” Rogers said.

Sofia Rubinson said the FIRST competition has taught her much more than just robotics. It has taught her about time management, delegating tasks and cooperating with others. “The FIRST value of gracious professionalism is a value I have been able to incorporate in every aspect of my life, and it creates a positive environment where ideas can flourish and people are always willing to help others,” Rubinson said. “I am so grateful for FIRST, as I feel it has given me a new perspective on competing against others with respect.”

GPR won first place Alliance Captain, along with the Think Award at the Center Moriches qualifier on Jan. 14, earning the right to compete in the Long Island Championship on Feb. 11. The top two winning teams will go on to compete in the eastern regional and world championships.