Q+A with Society of Peer Mentors, Robotics Co-Chair

April Gaydos, the Robotics Co-Chair for the Society of Peer Mentors organized a workshop on how to run a successful robotics team. We asked her a few questions about the work that went into it and what she enjoys about being involved in Peer Mentors. Check it out!

Q: How did you first become involved with Peer Mentors and why did you decide to join?
A:Upon entering my first year at LSU, I attended the Encounter Engineering Bridge Camp for freshmen. This camp was led by most of the members in the organization. These students truly inspired me throughout this week. From giving helpful advice to teaching us that engineering is fun, I was intrigued by this organization and how they came to be. After camp, I interviewed for a position within the Society of Peer Mentors as a robotics mentor. One year later, I was promoted to robotics chair. Joining this organization is one of the best decisions I have made in my college career.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a part of this group?
A: Being a part of this organization is more than just student involvement. The people in the Society of Peer Mentors become your family. Their goal is to help you grow as a student, a professional, and as a person. This different dynamics is what makes the Society of Peer Mentors stand out.

Q: What are your duties as Robotics Co-Chair?
A: As Robotics Chair, I work with both LSU students and East Baton Rouge K-12 schools. We pair mentors from LSU with the robotics programs in East Baton Rouge to work with them throughout their competition season. I also conduct interviews, trainings, and weekly meetings, as well as communicate with all parties involved throughout this process. I also have a Co-Chair that works with me on all of these endeavors.

Q: Tell us about the recent workshop on how to run a successful robotics team that you held. What did you do at the workshop, who was there, etc.?
A: This work shop was created for the leaders of robotics teams in Louisiana. We spent the day educating these leaders on how to build a successful team through team building exercises, personality tests, conflict resolution, design processes, and goal setting. Also, since we had limited time for this seminar, each leader left with a portfolio detailing all of the information from the day, as well as additional information on business plans, obtaining sponsors, and awards. In total, we had eleven schools attend this workshop.

Q: Tell us about the amount of time and energy you put into making this workshop happen.
A: This work shop has been two years in the making. The process started with an initial idea to help build robotics teams in non-technical aspects: business plans, sponsorships, leadership skills, team building, etc. I presented this idea to Adrienne Steele, the STEP coordinator, who approved the idea for this workshop. I then created surveys to receive feedback on what the teachers would like to see in this workshop. This feedback is what inspired the topics that were presented during this workshop.

Q: What made you interested in hosting this workshop/what gave you the idea to do so?
A: After spending eleven years in the FIRST Robotics Program, I have seen many strong teams struggle due to poor leadership, lack of future goals, financial concerns, etc. There are not many resources regarding these topics. Because of this, I took it upon myself to help these teams improve and grow. This project was special to me because of my own experiences within the robotics programs.

Q: Did you face any obstacles along the way and if so, how did you get past them?
A: Many obstacles occurred along our path to creating this workshop. One of the biggest obstacle was coordinating a day where there LSU had an away football game and the teachers were available to attend. Multiple surveys were sent out in attempt to find the best day available for all parties involved.


Q: How has being in Peer Mentors and serving in a leadership position prepared you for life after college?
A: The Society of Peer Mentors has given me many opportunities to grow. Coming in to this program, I was shy and quiet, but the opportunities I have been given has pushed outside of my comfort zone. I have given many presentations, led trainings, and now hosted my own workshop that I oversaw from start to finish. Before joining this program, I would not have felt confident enough to be able to accomplish these tasks!

Name: April Gaydos
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Hammond, LA
Society of Peer Mentors, Robotics Chair

Senior Design and Student Competitions: The IEEE Regional Robotics Competition

Our team, representing LSU, placed third out of twenty universities at the 2014 IEEE Region 5 Student Robotics Competition. The competition was held on April 5, 2014 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The objective was to build a small robot that could extinguish a simulated oil rig fire on a predefined course. The robot had to determine which oil rig out of three was on fire, pick up the correct tool to extinguish the fire, navigate a maze, and use the tool to extinguish the fire. All tasks had to be completed in under four minutes, and points were awarded for number of tasks completed. The robot had to be completely autonomous, which means that it could not be controlled by anyone and had to perform all the tasks on its own.

We participated in the competition as part of our joint Senior Design project between the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering departments. Our team consisted of Nicolas Aguirre (EEC), Joshua Duncan (EE), Gregory Garner (EE), Collin Lee (ME), and Daniel Quebedeaux (EEC). We designed the robot during the Fall 2013 semester, and the manufacturing and testing took place over the Spring 2014 semester. The robot was designed and built from scratch and incorporated concepts from the electrical, computer, and mechanical disciplines.

Robotics Team Group Photo

Robotics Team Group Photo

Our team qualified for the Finals in the first of three qualifying rounds by being able to complete at least one task. After the first final round, we were tied for third with four other universities. In the tiebreaker round for third, we scored four out of the five possible points. This gave us the third place position and was the highest score achieved in competition play. We received many compliments from other universities on the design and performance of our robot. Our team was recognized at the Awards Banquet for placing third. We received certificates, student editions of the LabVIEW software, and a $200.00 cash prize.

We had to learn many technical skills in order to build a successful robot, in areas such as computer vision, microcontroller programming, mobile power, servo and motor control, and manufacturing. In addition to technical skills, we all had to learn about the design process, project management, budgeting, and working together as a team.

The most rewarding part for the team was seeing all of our hard work pay off. We also enjoyed talking with the other universities and discovering the many creative ways other teams approached the same problem. The whole experience increased our interest in the field of robotics.

  – Nicolas Aguirre, Joshua Duncan, Gregory Garner, Collin Lee, and Daniel Quebedeaux