The Parish Rover team grabs three awards and finishes strong at NASA competition.
The 2018-19 Parish Episcopal School Rover team brought home several awards and reached two milestones during the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama on April 12-13. The competition attracts high schools and universities nationwide, and encourages research and development of new technology for future NASA missions. Each team designs and builds a human-powered rover that is raced through simulated extraterrestrial terrain. In previous years, Parish had battled inclement weather and lost racing time; however, the team dodged the rain and got in two full days of racing this season. While only 12 team members made the trip, the team includes 19 student-engineers who worked on designing and building two rovers over a nine-month period. Parish teachers Fallon Ahearn, Dave Cribbs and Jen Makins led the Rover team.
“Students bonded through the process and the challenges and the things we threw at them to build their skills to get them ready for the actual building of the rover,” said Makins. “They were a family and at the end, they succeeded as a family and a group of friends.”
The Parish team competed against 93 teams in high school and college divisions during the NASA competition. There were two notable differences in this year’s Parish team: Ryland Marshall ‘22 became the first female driver to steer a Parish rover, and it was the first year to build two new rovers from scratch, including one with a wooden frame. The selection of the wood material strayed from the norm, but proved to be a good choice as the design won two awards.
“We were all so excited because a bunch of the NASA engineers doubted that the wooden rover would actually work,” noted Marshall. “It was a lot of fun to prove them wrong.”
The wooden rover placed eighth while the other Parish rover rolled in at 10th place. The team also received three prestigious awards: Neil Armstrong Award for Best Design (Won third year in-a-row); Best Report Award (Won fourth year in-a-row) and Team Spirit Award. The Team Spirit Award is particularly special because only one is given out each year among all of the high school and college teams.
It takes months of preparation and sacrifice to achieve this level of success in the NASA competition. Students had to balance schoolwork and long hours in Parish’s Design Den. They learned valuable lessons on time management, teamwork, and they journaled about their progress. (Watch the Steel Rover Animation video by Chaz Daggett '20)
“What came out of it is a group of people that really built bonds with one another,” added Sohum Kulkarni ’20, who has traveled with the Rover team for three years. “It was a group of people who really knew how to handle the rover competition and how to do it well.”
Like many seasoned Rover members, Kulkarni took on a bigger role as a mentor this year which he says helped him build his engineering and leadership skills.
“I’ve definitely developed my engineering abilities, working more with designing custom parts,” noted Kulkarni. “I also worked toward organizing a large group, making sure everyone knows what they’re doing, enjoys what they’re doing and is motivated.”
In addition to building engineering skills, Parish Rover also allows students to bring their unique gifts and talents to the competition. Marshall says she tapped into her soccer skills and competitive spirit to guide her as she helped drive the wooden rover. She also utilized her relationship with her co-driver, Jonas Pearson ’22.
“It was easy to find our connection because we’ve known each other for so long and he also plays soccer,” said Marshall. “When we got to the race, everything clicked and it went perfectly. He knew when I needed some help and I knew when he needed some help.”
Rover team members say they couldn’t put in the time and dedication without the support of Parish teachers, Rover instructors and the Parish community. Teachers worked with students as they juggled assignments and the demands of Rover, while team leaders helped them hone their skills. The sySTEMS (Supporting Your STEM Student) booster supplied the team with travel day support and gave them a special send-off as they loaded up the rovers and left for Alabama. The Foshee family was also there to wish the Rover team well and see the purple seats which were placed on each rover, in loving memory of their daughter Mira ‘22.
“She was not a member of our team, but she was a part of the STEM program in Middle School and was very close to several of the freshman on the Rover team,” added Makins. “A third of the team is made up of freshman and they asked if they could do that in Mira’s memory.”
Fresh off another successful year, the Rover team is already looking toward the future. Members are discussing what worked well this year and what they can improve upon for the next competition. There’s also a shift in who will help guide candidates for the 2019-20 team.
“On the Rover team, seniors always take on a larger leadership role,” added Kulkarni. “It’s really been helpful for me - especially last year and the year before - to have mentors show me how to use the tools, how to make a good design and what a good design looks like. My senior year, I will make more of an effort to be a mentor to the younger students and help them grow as leaders and as engineers.”
And so, the tradition of Rover continues. “Let’s Roll!”