Students push a robot that has the number 2198 on it.

Humber was abuzz as a contingent of high school students and their mentors were at North Campus as part of the FIRST Robotics District Competition.

Just shy of 30 teams were at the campus on March 19 and 20 to compete with hopes of advancing to the provincial championships. The competition pushes the boundaries of creativity, teamwork, and technical skills. Students navigate strict rules, limited resources, and tight deadlines to design, build, and program industrial-sized robots. After six weeks of building, the students test their robots in a challenging game against other teams.

A person holding a device stands near a robot as people look on.   

The students use engineering, coding, and design techniques as well as machining, computer-aided design, math, and welding to bring their robots to life. The competition demonstrates the real-world application of engineering and emphasizes the importance of community outreach, fundraising and the creation of a distinct team brand.  

Luca Iacovelli, a student at Humberview Secondary School in Bolton, was the lead programmer for the Alpha Dogs team. Iacovelli got involved with FIRST Robotics to fuel a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and an interest in problem solving.

Iacovelli enjoyed the challenge of collaborating with the team to design and build their robot and said they worked throughout their March Break, sometimes to as late as midnight, to get it done. With the goal of attending post-secondary for mechatronics or engineering, Iacovelli said the skills the team developed will be valuable.

“Being here and seeing all our hard work paying off really means a lot,” said Iacovelli.

Lynn VanLieshout, manager of Community Projects with Community Outreach and Workforce Development at Humber, has been involved with several FIRST Robotics competitions at Humber and continues to be impressed by the professionalism and good sportsmanship of the students as well as the quality of the robots they create.

VanLieshout said a number of Humber students are FIRST Robotics alums who cheer on their old teams and schools. Humber staff also served as some of the judges at the competition.

Three smiling people stand together along with the Humber Hawk mascot. One of them is holding up a plaque.

One of the great things about hosting is that it allows the competitors to explore the campus and learn more about what a Humber education can offer, added VanLieshout.

Nickolas de Boer is a graduate of the Electromechanical Engineering Technology program who now works as a Mechatronics Technologist at the Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation. He was volunteering as a robot inspector at the competition.

Joining FIRST helped de Boer become the person he is today and played a role in choosing his post-secondary program. He acquired valuable communication and leadership skills, in addition to technical skills through his involvement and continued to participate to give back.  

“I had such a great time being part of FIRST and at the competitions, so I wanted to try and give the next generation the same experience,” said de Boer.

Drake Torres and Justin Liew, both Grade 12 students at Bill Hogarth Secondary School in Markham, were part of the Vespa Robotics team. Torres really enjoyed building the robot and learning more about the tools needed to do so.

Liew hopes to pursue a post-secondary education in engineering and joined FIRST for the experience it provides. Liew and Torres enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the competition and how they had to think quickly and fix any issues that arose with their robot.

“If you have any interest in technology, FIRST is a great thing to be a part of,” said Liew.

Students wearing Northview Robotics tshirts carry a robot.

The competition drew first-time competitors such as Etobicoke’s Silverthorn Collegiate Institute and its Silver Robotics team and Alectrona, the only all-girls team, from Aurora.

Jalen Antoine-Francis is a Grade 10 student at St. Mother Teresa Catholic Academy in Toronto and was part of the ‘Tita’BOTS team. Antoine-Francis said that anyone thinking about joining FIRST should as there’s lots to learn, friends to make and fun to be had.