First, a little background on FIRST. It was founded by renowned inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 as an effort to get children and young adults excited about STEM education. Since then, the organization has expanded worldwide, and has grown to incorporate every age group. It stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Key action words: Inspiration and Recognition. Naturally, the SOTABots embody and act in the principles of those behaviors. But more than most FIRST Teams, the SOTABots strive to integrate the arts into STE[A]M education.
Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) was established 2001 in downtown Tacoma, Washington as a means of alternative education for students with a passion for various forms of art to come together in a focused, community-integrated environment. The public school soon began to gain popularity within the district and the surrounding areas, with as many as four hundred students applying annually for one of the exclusive 140 spots available in each class. In 2007, founder John Ketler decided it would be a cool idea if an art school built robots, and so the grant was written and SOTABots was born.
We began January of 2008, our Alpha year, only oriented enough to focus on figuring out how to build a functioning and competitive robot. The team took home the Rookie All-Star Award. Beta year, the mentors knew the team had strong potential, and so they organized the students in order to optimize the group output. Gamma year, some of the Beta students decided they wanted to be more in control. It was the first year a SOTABots senior project was completed. With it, a powerful student-led infrastructure was laid out and along with a stronger program, and another successful regional-winning robot was built.
By 2009, SOTA was a well-known, successful school, and the administrators decided to expand their vision. In fall of 2009, Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI) was opened, another specialized school this time focused on science and math education. Like SOTA, the school quickly gained recognition for superior education and learning opportunities, drawing in applicants from all over the surrounding area. In 2011, the teamís Delta year, there was a team HQ change, merger with SAMI, and founding of the TRA.
Much like a company merger, the significant changes shifted the team dynamic. Multiple teams in the area meet at a local middle schoolís shop and lab space. The growing partnership includes four FTC teams, teams 3039, 4053, 4054 and 5171; four FLL teams; as well as FRC teams 360, 3393, and the SOTABots FIRST team 2557. The more experienced team members were all SOTA students, while most of the newcomers were SAMI students. Some had FTC experience, and others were new to FIRST. Before long, everyone settled into a nice rhythm and a well-functioning team went into its Epsilon year. That year, the team went to world championships and came home with a renewed sense of confidence and a determination to take the program to the next level. Thatís where you come in.