BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Not only are they learning how to use new technology to build robots, but they’re learning the basics of marketing in the process.
The Fort Madison Cyberhounds, a group of students from Fort Madison High School and Holy Trinity Catholic, did some marketing under the leadership of Elliott Test Kitchen’s Kumar Wickramasingha, Monday evening in front of industry leaders from Lee County at the Test Kitchen.
The group was started several years ago as a Robotics club at Fort Madison High School, mentored by Joseph Johnstun, a history teacher, and Shalisse Johnstun, an English instructor at FMHS. The group learns, and teaches others, about how the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives are being utilized to build competitive robots at the high school.
Wickramasingha seized on the energy of the students and made them a part of the Elliott Test Kitchen’s programming for this school year. The Cyberhounds come and teach the robotics they’ve learned to the elementary and junior high students. And as always, the learning comes with a wholesome meal prepared at the kitchen, again, under the leadership of Wickramasingha.
Jace Fedler, a senior at FMHS, said the night was built to create awareness for the project to possibly generate some sponsorships for the group, which is now at 23 students. The group is a diverse group consisting of nine girls and 14 boys.
“We invited all these companies and businesses to talk to them about high school robotics. What we’d like to do for them and what we’d like them to do for us.”
He said the Cyberhounds are the only robotics team in a 50 mile radius and their mission is to create awareness for what STEM is doing locally.
The Cyberhounds travel to a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition each year. Last year the competition was in Cedar Falls and Fedler said it was an eye-opening experience.
“We learned how much of a level playing field we weren’t on. Other teams have warehouses with all this machinery and tools. Some teams are sponsored by NASA and Boeing. It’s an international competition and these are the best and brightest minds in the world and we want to showcase southeast Iowa well.”
In addition to the team’s robotics minds, part of the group is charged with the business side of the club and is responsible for outreach, a website featuring the Cyberhounds at https://cyberhounds.org, social media management, and accounting.
Shyannah Hoenig, a sophomore vice president of the group, is helping with the business side of the club.
“This is where we host the classes for the younger generations so we thought it would be a good place to invite people down for some food and to hear what we’re doing,” she said.
“We’re thankful to have these companies come here. We invite them with the hope that they could either help mentor us or sponsor us because we need both knowledge and funds to be able to run the team and we want to be successful.”
Hoenig said the FIRST competition costs $5,000 to qualify for the FIRST competition, but other costs include transportation and accommodations, supplies, and storage.
“It’s recommended that you buy the basic robot kit, but then you have to buy additional parts. It’s thousands and thousands of dollars that are needed to get this off the ground.”
Nathaniel Harter, who was part of the club last year, said this year should be a better experience.
“Last year was our first year and we really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We think we’ll do better with what we learned last year and what we’ve learned since then, and hopefully with some more support.”
Some of the industries represented at the meeting included Silgan Containers, Seither and Cherry, Mohrfeld Electric, Steffensmeier Welding & Mfg., Iowa Fertilizer Co., Matt’s Greenhouse, Fort Madison and Holy Trinity schools, and others.
Sponsorships are available at varied increments from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. People can also help by becoming mentors for the program to provide information and training, or supply access to facilities for storage and work, or by providing equipment and software.
More information is available at the club’s website or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Cyberhounds7141/?ref=br_rs.