The Geese of Glen Rock High


Photo Credit: Caroline Geoghegan

Cosmic Goose Robotics constructed their robot from a TETRIX robotics kits. These kits are a staple for FTC teams across the country.

by Caroline Geoghegan, Managing Editor

“Ladies, Gentlemen, Geese,” a gruff voice cuts off the clamoring of students, all scurrying around the pre-engineering room of Glen Rock High School, long after classes ended for the day. The projects they are working on are not a part of any curriculum, but that does not stop the students from spending precious free time threading wires through machinery or hunching over laptops coding lines that will make metal move.

“At the risk of stating the obvious, we have to improve our robustness of that plank…. And you know that. And we do need to improve our robustness of that programming… and you know that,” Stephen McNally, the adviser of this after school club, officially titled Cosmic Goose Robotics, says. All of this work is in preparation for the rest of the trials the Geese must compete in for the year: meeting at other schools, the team has already faced their share of tournaments during the season. However, the most momentous competition for the team has yet to come: this being the Feb. 24 meet taking place at GRHS, the first event of this kind that’s taking place on the Geese’s home turf. 

Photo Credit: Caroline Geoghegan
Team captains Madeleine Brennan, Alex Mueninghoff, and Parker Li work on their robot in preparation for the next FTC tournament. Cosmic Goose Robotics often meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, but crunch time before a competition can often lead them to gather more frequently and work longer hours.

Cosmic Goose Robotics, also known as New Jersey FTC Team #8902, the Geese, or Glen Rock High School’s Robotics club, is knee-deep in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a STEM-centered game in which teams of middle and high school students are challenged to operate robots of their own making around a twelve by twelve game board, ripe with obstacles and tasks to complete. If a team performs well enough in tournaments (which usually sets them against other teams in a certain region), it has a chance to compete on both state and national levels.

The team, which is led by Madeleine Brennan, Alex Mueninghoff, and Parker Li puts a great emphasis on student-led activity in hopes of preparing high schoolers for a real-world career in the STEM field.

“There’s an active approach to have the students self direct themselves. Not by accident. To form a more [sic] teams and to work against their deadlines with minimal supervision,” McNally said.  “It’s not an accident, that’s the way technological teams work in real life, and that’s the lesson they take away from this.”

Photo Credit: Caroline Geoghegan
The team’s robot retrieves Wiffle balls on a FTC game board. In order to do so, it follows a script of code written by the team. The programming is being fed to the robot through a phone strapped to the machine.

This dedication to student-driven work is one of the core tenets of Cosmic Goose Robotics. The robot is built by members of the team from a basic Tetrix kit, then supplemented with various parts from other manufacturers. Around two thousand lines of code must be written for the robot to function on the game board, all of it overseen by Colin Blake to make sure that not a single command is out of place. Along with this, a notebook is kept in order to record the progress made by the team during each meeting. Last year’s notebook was 178 pages long.

“It’s also supposed to help you be a “real engineer’, which would include making sketches, keeping track of them, keeping track of your progress and ideas and being able to go back and refer to previous designs,” said Brennan, who oversees the notebook in addition to leading the team.

However, there is more to the FIRST Tech Challenge than just building and operating a robot. Each team must also participate in community outreach. Cosmic Goose Robotics recently led a six week long STEM camp for second and third graders, and have participated in the Glen Rock Public Library’s Maker Day and Girl’s STEM day.

“It makes the community more aware of STEM activities, because in our town there’s not a whole lot of STEM stuff, so it’s really important to us to find easy ways for parents to find [STEM activities] for their kids,” Brennan said. “By doing this outreach stuff, we kinda make kids more aware about a possible career choice.”

Photo Credit: Nori Tsiang
Cosmic Goose members Alex Mueninghoff, Colin Blake, and Madeleine Brennan watch their robot compete at a FTC tournament. So far, the team has placed second at the January 6 meet at Emerson High School.

The Geese have already placed second at the Jan. 6 meet at Emerson High School in Emerson, NJ, making this the second time they’ve placed silver at a tournament this year and giving them high hopes for their next meet on home turf, taking place on Feb. 24.  

These victories are not unprecedented. Last year, Cosmic Goose Robotics won the Inspire award, which is given to a team that “is a strong ambassador for FIRST programs and a role model FIRST team”, and “a top contender for many other judged awards”, according to the FTC’s official award descriptions.

Such high honors do not come without strenuous work. The Cosmic Goose team regularly meets every Tuesday and Thursday, each student usually dedicating around ten hours a week to improving their chances of winning more competitions (whether that be through making improvements to the robot or programming, updating the dedicated notebook, or working on outreach). However, members of the team can spend up to thirty hours a week working towards the First Tech Challenge during “crunch time”, which usually occurs during the week of a competition.

“[The season lasts from] September to February, March if we qualify,” Brennan said.

“And we’re gonna qualify,” Blake added.

For more information and updates on Cosmic Goose Robotics, follow the team on Instagram @cosmicgoose8902