As Saginaw Valley State University prepares to host the FIRST in Michigan state championship April 10-13, one SVSU student is doing all he can to help his former high school team qualify to visit his current campus.
Daniel Schwarck isn't quite ready to give up his time with the FIRST Robotics competition, where high school teams assemble and pilot robots in competition spaces that change yearly.
After competing four years with the robotics team at Kingston High School in Michigan’s Thumb, the Robo-Cards, he now helps mentor the team as a first-year electrical engineering major at SVSU.
Schwarck's interest in robotics comes out of a lifelong interest in science fiction, where robots are everywhere. Kingston High School educators set up a robotics team the year before he started attending, and participating was a no-brainer for him.
“I checked it out the first year and kind of did odd jobs with it to see if I wanted to do the mechanical side, the electrical or coding,” Schwarck said. “I started out trying to figure out the coding, and decided it was not for me, so I switched to electrical and enjoyed that.”
Schwarck worked on the electrical side of the team for the next few years, until the team expanded and needed participants to cover compressed air systems.
The Robo-Cards made it to the state competitions twice while Schwarck was on the team, most recently during FIRST Robotics' second appearance at SVSU in 2018, during his senior year.
Schwarck noted that the academic and practical benefits of participating in FIRST Robotics should not be understated.
“You have to keep up good grades,” Schwarck said. “You use your knowledge to compete. You're using math while you're building your robot. You're really thinking about it and planning it out. It helped boost my math ability because I got used to it in a situation where I had to apply it. It wasn't just theory.”
That practical application of engineering knowledge is important to Schwarck, who now sees a path at SVSU toward a career he's passionate about.
“I figured, I already have an idea of this electrical stuff – I enjoy it – so if I can get a job where I can basically do the same thing I was doing as a hobby, my life is going to be great,” Schwarck said.
Scholarships and networking opportunities are some additional benefits of Schwarck's time competing in FIRST Robotics. He has seen opportunities in mechanical and electrical engineering open up as a result.
For Schwarck, competing in FIRST Robotics isn't so much about beating the other teams as it is about showcasing excellence in robotics.
“When you go to the competitions, it's so different from any other sport,” Schwarck said. “People are singing and dancing. People are a lot closer. It's competitive, but it's not like you're trying to beat other teams. You're trying to be the top team.”
When asked whether the Kingston Robo-Cards will place at FIRST Robotics' state championship at SVSU this year, Schwarck is optimistic.
“I think we have a solid shot,” Schwarck said. “We have a pretty solid team.”