April 08, 2022
Columbia’s FIRST® Robotics Competition Team – Army Ants – claimed the Chairman’s Award at the recent St. Louis regional FIRST Robotics Competition. Additionally, Kevin Gillis, chair of the Department of Biomedical, Biological and Chemical Engineering and an Army Ants’ advisor was awarded the Woodie Flowers Finalist award.
The Army Ants are comprised of local high school students from Columbia Public Schools, mentored by Anand Chandrasekhar, professor of biological studies and the co-chief mentor, and Gillis, who serves as chief mentor emeritus and the organization’s outreach mentor.
The Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious awarded by FIRST, honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the mission of FIRST. Army Ants was selected because of its efforts in STEM community outreach, including its special emphasis on diversity and inclusion. The group earned the award over 37 FIRST teams enrolled at the regional competition.
“We have a great team that has a remarkable history of success at regional and national events,” Gillis said. “I’m thrilled to see their hard work and efforts recognized at this year’s regional competition.”
Gillis received the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award, which goes to an individual who celebrates effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design. The Army Ants nominated Gillis for the award, and only one of these awards is given to a mentor at each FIRST robotics regional competition.
The team and Gillis are now qualified for national awards at the International FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas, April 20-23.
Mizzou Engineering also exhibited a table at the regional event that featured Spot, the robot from Boston Dynamics that the College uses to train students to work with autonomous systems. The robotic dog attracted a lot of attention from high school students and Spot danced on the competition field following chants of “M-I-Z, Z-O-U.”
“Spot allowed them to see how the field of robotics is emerging and advancing,” Gillis said. “It was a great way to really link the concepts FIRST teams are learning to real-world applications. And it showed them how Mizzou Engineering is making sure students graduate with experience around these technologies.”
Gillis has been a mentor for Army Ants since it started in 2011. Since 2013, Mizzou Engineering has provided some financial and logistical support for the organization, which aims to foster interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“FIRST gives younger students opportunities to really explore STEM in meaningful ways,” Gillis said. “Then, as students age out of the group and become college students, they continue to stay involved as mentors. It’s a great educational pipeline that continuously prepares students for essential careers.”