by Linda Hass, Published July 11, 2012
YPSILANTI - Though Eastern Michigan University's main focus is giving its students a quality education, it is also home to many visiting camps, tournaments and activities-like robot battles-each year.
Every spring, robot enthusiasts converge upon EMU as they not only bring metal to life, but compete for a state championship. High school teams from around Michigan meet at the Convocation Center like scientific gladiators, pumped and primed to see their computer-driven creations go head-to-head at the Robotics State Championship.
The three-day event, organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), also draws thousands of cheering fans as these mechanical wonders duke it out to score points for their teams. While the championship is not an EMU event, Eastern students and alumni mentor many of the teams.
"Eastern has held the most robotics events in FIRST history, several of the mentors are EMU students and other coaches are alumni like me, so there's definitely a green and white presence at the event," says Debbie Moyer May (BS86), robotics coordinator and coach for the Bedford High School robotics team.
May says she enjoys coming "home" for the annual championship and mingling with current and past Eagles. She's also proud of how the event showcases the University to prospective students.
Kristen Todd, an EMU sophomore, is a case in point.
"When I was in seventh grade, my parents kept nagging me to attend one of my brother's competitions. I didn't want to go-it was way too nerdy for me. But they dragged me there anyway," says Todd, 18, a double major in communications and creative writing from Plymouth.
But a funny thing happened when she arrived at the Convention Center-Todd fell in love with robotics. Cheering spectators packed the stands and high school students dressed in mascot costumes strutted their enthusiasm.
"Participants committed themselves 100 percent to an activity they clearly loved," she says. "I wanted to be a part of it."
Todd ended up joining her school's robotics team in eighth grade and continued through her senior year of high school. She was so committed that FIRST awarded her a $1,000 scholarship for college. Her choice of school?
"I picked Eastern because it had been a huge presence in my life from all the robotic competitions here. It just felt like home," she says.
This year, Todd served as a mentor for the high school team from Plymouth, Canton and Salem, and says mentoring was her "way of giving back."
According to May, one of the most rewarding aspects of the competition is seeing how it changes lives. "I've watched students gain confidence in speaking with adults and develop a love for math and science. I've also seen graduates return as mentors," she says. "This program is helping turn students into future engineers, teachers and business people who care about their world and the people living in it."