Campus & Community

Physics student helps high schoolers meet in robotics challenge

Kathy Geise has a passion for learning, teaching and science. She’s bringing them together leading a team of volunteers in a program that challenges high school students to compete in a nationwide robotics tournament.

In her 10th year working part time toward a DU bachelor’s degree in physics, Geise says she hopes to wrap up her degree this year and go on to teach science. The 48-year-old mom already has a bachelor’s in botany and a master’s in business. She says she’s fascinated with physics and the origins of life and equally dedicated to bringing science to students, from grade school to high school. 

Working in a lab in DU’s physics and astronomy building, Geise helps coordinate volunteer engineers and parents as they guide a DU team of 15 high school students to participation in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition.

FIRST is an international nonprofit encouraging students to work with technology and overcome engineering challenges. For high school-age teams, each year is different.

Teams are provided a package of metal and plastic parts, motors and remote control devices. They get a description of the challenge and a six-week deadline. What they build and how it works is up to teams. This year, students need to build a robot that can race around a track and move 40-inch inflatable balls through obstacles to score points. 

“The great thing about this is the skills that students take away here are real life skills,” Geise says. “These technologies that we work with are all around us. But in this program, we learn how they work and how they work together.”

Creativity is every bit as valued as engineering precision, and a successful robot needs to be functional, structurally sound and designed to take on a task in a way that’s better than someone else’s design.

From the nuts-and-bolts work of assembling a metal framework to designing custom parts on a computer-aided design graphics program, students use a host of technologies to prepare for competition.

“I’ve always been interested in learning something new. I’m really a big team person, everyone works together, and I like that,” says Taylor Kilpatrick, a 14-year-old freshman from St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood, Colo.

She’s also learning about electronics and wiring while assembling the robot. 

Her father, Bruce, is one of the parent volunteers. As a real estate appraiser, he’s not exactly a robotics expert, but he likes the way the project lets parents work with children. His son, Jackson, also is part of the team.

“We’re trying to build a community here where people work together,” Bruce Kilpatrick says.

Geise, who gets to work with her 16-year-old daughter on the project, dubs the team “Freelance Robotics” because it includes students from a variety of schools. She says DU’s team gives the students who might not be able to compete the opportunity to work on a team.  

The regional competition, drawing 41 teams from Colorado and Wyoming, will take place March 27–29 at DU’s Magness Arena.

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