It’s a family affair with robotics team

The Cummings family (L to R), Tomy, Barb and Ken, are mentors for the North Branch-Chisago Lakes FIRST Robotics Team 3038. This year’s robot, a 110-pound creation that throws a Frisbee and performs other functions, is packed up and ready to travel with the team to the 10,000 Lakes Regional competition at Williams Arena on the U of M’s Minneapolis campus March 28-30. Photo by Derrick Knutson

The Cummings family (L to R), Tomy, Barb and Ken, are mentors for the North Branch-Chisago Lakes FIRST Robotics Team 3038. This year’s robot, a 110-pound creation that throws a Frisbee and performs other functions, is packed up and ready to travel with the team to the 10,000 Lakes Regional competition at Williams Arena on the U of M’s Minneapolis campus March 28-30.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

Sometimes parents get involved in their children’s afterschool activities by becoming mentors.

After their children graduate and move on from the activities, the rest of the family usually follows suit.

That’s far from the case with the Cummings family.

Stacy residents Ken, Barb and Tomy Cummings are all mentors for the North Branch-Chisago Lakes FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Team 3038.

Tomy, Ken and Barb’s son, first got involved with the team five years ago—it’s inaugural season.

“I saw something in the school newsletter, and it said something about robotics,” Tomy said. “I was interested, so I signed up for it.”

He added he was very shy before joining the robotics team, and through the process of building a robot and working with other students, he began to overcome his introverted nature.

Not long after Tomy joined the team, Ken and Barb offered their expertise to Team 3038.

“I work at Cambridge Medical Center as a maintenance engineer,” Ken said. “If it’s broke, I fix it.”

Barb said initially she was involved with the team by working on the marketing end, but she delved into the construction aspect after the team solicited her help.

“Then came along bumper and fabric problems, so they recruited me for sewing,” she said.

Two years after Tomy joined the team, he graduated.

He’s currently pursuing a degree in computer science at Century College in White Bear Lake and could probably easily be spending all of his time doing that and other activities, but he and his family became so invested in Team 3038 that they found it hard to give up; they wanted to keep going with the team.

So Tomy came back to the robotics team as an alumni mentor, and Ken and Barb continued with their roles.

There’s also another former student who is an alumni mentor, and one who is interested in the post after she completes four years in the military.

“The kids are going to listen to them a lot more than they’re going to listen to us,” Barb said of the alumni mentors.

 

Learning valuable lessons

Barb was quick to mention students can letter in robotics, and being part of the team is an experience they can draw on for the rest of their lives.

“A bunch of kids can be in football or basketball, but they may not become professionals,” Barb said. “But our kids will probably be science majors, mathematics majors or engineers.”

Tomy said watching the students learn is his favorite part about being a mentor.

“I teach the kids the programming language, how to implement it and how to problem solve,” he said.  The problem-solving skills they got from what I teach them are going to be there for a lifetime.

He added, “At the end of this season, I was pretty much able to tell them anything—go change this or go change that—and they would just know how to do it.”

All three members of the Cummings family agreed they’d like to keep mentoring the team as long as they can.

“We plan to stay involved as long as there’s a team,” Ken said.

 

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