Robinson Center I-Robotics team goes to Germany in a trip students will 'never forget'

Author: Brittany Collins

The Robinson Center LEGO I-Robotics team poses at a castle in Germany The Robinson Center LEGO I-Robotics team poses at a castle in Germany in June 2012.

When asked about the food, members of the Robinson Community Learning Center’s LEGO I-Robotics team all started talking at once.

They mentioned the brats. The breakfast. The chocolate. The gelato.

“We had schnitzel for the first time,” said member Hannah Moss.

The team earned a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Germany from June 1 to June 10 to compete in the FIRST LEGO League Open European Championship. Sixty-six teams from more than 40 countries participated in the three-day event.

The robotics team, which comprises 10 students ages 10-15 from South Bend area schools, flew to Munich a few days before the competition to sightsee. The students toured Munich; visited two castles — including Neuschwanstein, the one that inspired Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom — and a Mercedes museum; took a trip up the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest peak; and spent time visiting Dachau, a concentration camp.

In December 2011, the team won the state tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind., which qualified it for the championship. The nonprofit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international program that challenges students to develop presentations and design and program LEGO robots, tasked participating teams this year with finding ways to prevent food contamination.

The Robinson Center team researched the problem and decided to focus on the issue of fish being damaged in transport. The students developed the innovative solution of packing the fish in a protective gel. The team is working on a patent for its creation.

The competition, held in Mannheim, tested the teams on a research presentation, their robotics performance and their teamwork. Though coach G. David Moss, assistant vice president of student affairs at the University of Notre Dame, said their robot “did not perform up to capacity,” the students scored the highest they could on their presentation.

Team member Philip Moss said the judges “really did not want to put the focus on achievement, but on learning. What we learn is more important than what we win.”

The Robinson Center LEGO I-Robotics team gets ready to fly to Germany The team gets ready to fly to Germany.

For many of the students, the part of the competition they will remember most is getting introduced to cultures from around the world.

Student Lydia Moss said, “I really liked hearing all the different accents and languages, all that culture in one building. It was really beautiful, and I just loved it every single second.

“We were a part of something bigger than America, with all these different cultures coming together.”

Member Tiana Mudzimurema said, “Each team brought something special from their country — like the Thai team brought tea. It was cool that they brought one part of their culture.” The Robinson team brought U.S. and Indiana flags.

All 10 team members along with 17 family members, most of whom had never been abroad, went on the trip together. The students remembered with excitement all the aspects of life in Germany that are different — from the public transportation to the light switches.

Dachau was “a powerful moment,” said coach David Moss. The team visited an on-site chapel, where the students took a moment to reflect and to light a candle.

“In the concentration camp, they beat them (the prisoners) with this big stick,” said student Cambrin Dixon. “They don’t teach you that in school.”

Groshonda McDonald, one of the parents who accompanied the team, said of the experience, “We don’t look at it as a loss, because it wasn’t. It was a valuable learning experience and something the kids will never forget. We forget that there’s a whole other world out there with all these people we can learn from. You’re not limited to Indiana.”

Velshonna Luckey, youth development program director at the RCLC, said the other students at the center are inspired by the team’s trip to Germany.

“They’re talking differently,” she said. “They’re talking confidently about studying in other parts of the world. They didn’t travel with the team, but they heard the members talking about their trip and now they’re interested in all the places they can go.”

I-Robotics team members include Isaiah Crudup, Cambrin Dixon, Thomas Forsythe, Malik Giger, Andrew McDonald, Hannah Moss, Lydia Moss, Philip Moss, Tiana Mudzimurema and Valencia Randolph.

Founded in 2001 as a community-driven education center sponsored by Notre Dame in partnership with school, religious and civic leaders, the RCLC offers innovative tutoring, violence prevention, youth entrepreneurship and performing arts projects for adults and children in South Bend’s Northeast Neighborhood and beyond.