John Van Dolson, a 2008 Academy grad holding a degree in Facilities and Environmental Engineering, has robots on the brain. For the past three years, during the months of January and February, he lives and breathes everything robotic. Most people call those months winter. Van Dolson calls them “build season”.
Van Dolson, currently a Radiological Emergency Planner at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, has been volunteering to help the Robo-Rangers, students at Traip Academy in Kittery Maine, to prepare for competition in April. FRC (First Robotics Competition) combines the adrenalin rush of sports with the precision of science and technology. With stringent guidelines, limited resources, and little time, teams of 25 plus students must raise funds, design a team "brand," refine teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform specified tasks against a field of competitors. It’s as close to "real-world engineering" as a student can get.
“My role with the team is teaching the kids how to use Autodesk Inventor to draw, design, assemble and test parts all on the computer before needing to waste money and time building physical prototypes. We begin in the early Fall, meeting one night per week with anyone who is interested in learning how to do 3D Computer Modeling. Once build season comes, the challenge is laid out to all FIRST robotics teams worldwide at the same time and the design process begins immediately. Once we reach the end of the build season and get into the competition weekend(s) much, if not all of the design and assembly is complete it's an all hands effort and everyone quickly becomes a mechanic to get the robot working correctly and reliably,” he reported.
Van Dolson credits MMA as helping give him the needed structure and self discipline to succeed – and it did! “My current position at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard involves planning, managing, and training Shipyard Emergency Response Organization Teams. Since I am now a bit further from the engineering portion of the work at the Shipyard, I enjoy every opportunity I get to help teach the students how to design and build a working, competitive robot, he stated.”
Coaching a young intellect could be the ultimate rush!