Episode # 29

Meet a Student-Led Robotics Team

February 2, 2023

About This Episode

The Nuts – the Robotics Team at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati – started as a student led initiative more than ten years ago and is going strong. But this club is about more than making cool robots and going to the Worlds competition. The students who make the team get real-world experience with design thinking, programming, machining, public speaking and much more. In this episode, we’ll talk to the coach and a few members of the team about their experiences and how a Robotics Team has set them up to future engineers.


Walnut Hills Robotics Team “The NUTS!”. 7 student members and one coach dressed in Walnut Hills school branded team shirts.

Walnut Hills Robotics Team “The NUTS!”

The Walnut Hills High School Robotics team, 6133 “The NUTS!”, is a school team from Cincinnati, Ohio, and participates in First Tech Challenge (FTC). We have weekly practices on Wednesday (3:15 – 4:30), Friday (4:00-8:00), and Saturday (10:30-3:00) at the Manufactory (in Sharonville), where we work as a team to design, build, program, and create robots.

The team is a student-led initiative that works to bring together a group of like-minded people in order to get hands-on experience with the engineering process, machinery, programming and CAD skills, and most importantly having fun! Currently we have 8 members on the team consisting of four sophomores, two juniors, and two seniors.

Our mission is to send ripples of positive mojo and instill engineering, programming, and design thinking in our team, community, and world to expand our family sponsors, coaches, mentors, allies, team members and mentees. We will challenge our engineering and design abilities while upholding the values of FIRST to create a competitive robot that efficiently balances form, function, and aesthetics. To leave a lasting impact behind we will keep detailed documentation. Through hard work, determination, and perseverance we, Team 6133 “The NUTS!” have the power to spread the values and goals of FIRST within our community.

Walnut Hills High School is a college preparatory school for students in grades 7-12 in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to the robotics team, Walnut offers computer science and design courses, all of which are great resources for Walnut students who are interested in these fields.


Joining us today is the Walnut Hills Robotics team. The Nuts. I’m gonna let everybody kind of introduce themselves.

Rocky, you wanna kick it off? Sure. I’ll kick it off. My name is Rocky Tk and I am the coach of the the Walnut Hills Robotics team. And I have been doing that since 2012 off.

Hi, my name’s Luke. This is my fourth year on the team, and I’m the programming lead.

I’m Daniel, and this is my second year on the team. I’m a junior.

I’m Tek. This is my first year on a team. So basically I’m called like a rookie on the team, and I’m a sophomore. I’m Huda, I’m a rookie on the team, and I’m a sophomore. I’m Jack. This is my first year on the team and I’m a junior.

Well, we’re really excited to talk to you guys because first of all, I wanna know. , how many robotics teams, like, I mean, is this a normal thing for schools to have robotics teams?

There are a good number of schools with robotics teams. It’s a pretty competitive scene when here in Ohio. There are a lot of. Private teams and a lot of teams in public and private schools. Cool. How did your team get started?

This has been and is still a student-led initiative, meaning that there were students at Walnut Hills High School who approached the principal and said, we don’t have this program. This is a great program.

They actually brought in an example of a robot and a PowerPoint presentation. Showed the principal what it was all about, and he was like, this sounds like a great idea. This is something I’m gonna get behind. And something that we’re gonna do here at Wal Hills High School, we are a part of first, and that stands for inspiration of Recognition of Science and Technology.

And it was created by Dean Cayman, who is a inventor. Many different patents and his whole goal was to get students interested in the science and technology fields and the robot component is the hook of it. The other part of this program involves these young students putting together what’s called an engineering notebook, and then talking to, or actually going through a judging process at every competition that they go.

Oh, that’s cool. I like that. It was a, student initiative. How cool. How’s your start? So, yeah, somebody explained to me how this all works,

So basically every year there’s a new like, challenge that comes out on like this kickoff. So this year basically the challenge will revolve around putting these. Cones on different poles called junctions. And we get different amounts of points for different things like that. So maybe there’s a high junction that we get five points for putting a cone on and a medium that we only get three points for or something like that.

And We build our robot around that specific challenge. So from day one, we start brainstorming ideas in weighted objective tables to basically decide which part of our robot would be best for like each challenge. So he did the different mechanisms basically. And then from there we go on to.

Actually design those prototypes and eventually build our full robot. And so far we’ve had two different lead play like competitions in Kentucky where we’ve been really successful in we haven’t lost a game so far.

We do get to Worlds pretty often. And hopefully we can do that this year too.

When you get your challenge at the beginning of the season, do you guys work through the whole like engineering and design process Or like what does a practice look like?

So immediately we just watch the videos. They have videos, okay, where that explain what the challenge is. And most of what we want to do comes from previous seasons. Like, okay, if there’s something that looks like it could be picked up with a claw, we say, all right, we already know how to decide a claw.

Cuz you know, we’ve done previous years. And then we just start deciding which design to make. Cuz there are a lot of different ways to skin a cad. But yeah, we figure out what to do. We prototype and we build, and then we have a robot.

So then do. battle. I mean, like what, what Oh, sorry. Yeah.

Just like, I don’t know. So it’s, it can be pretty much everything, but Okay. Battling. So we, it’s usually moving one thing from one place to another. Okay. In order to score, you have to sometimes move the robot to a certain place. Sometimes read something. sometimes just put a block from one place into another.

To paint a more solid picture, we should probably explain what we’re doing this season. . the idea of it is you put cones onto sticks. You, you just grab a cone, you lift it up, and you put it on a stick, or you put it on somewhere on the floor.

but basically robots four, there are four robots on the field trying to put as many cones on sticks as possible. There are other aspects like you have to park your robot in places before time runs out, or Oh, you, yeah. So you have time challenges to like, is everything timed? Yeah. Okay.

So, tell me why you decided to join the robotics team,

I got my star in first leg of League, and when I came to Walnut, I really wanted to join the robotics team right away, but I found out that the team is limited to ninth through 12th grade, and I came in in seventh grade.

Ah. So I spent two years coming to practices and competitions trying to help out and learn what I could and meet the team so that when I ultimately applied for ninth grade, I was prepared to start contributing to the team immediately and working on the products I wanted to work on.

I never did first Lego League, but okay. Every year this team hosts an open house and anyone from the school can just come and see what’s going on and then apply if they want to. So that’s what I did. Cuz he doesn’t like robots, right?


The way I found out was kind of pretty similar to Avi. We were actually both on the same first Lego League team back when we were in like elementary and middle school. And then we both ended up like going to Walnut. And when we heard that there was a first Tech Challenge team right here that was really successful, we were both really interested and actually I applied in ninth grade and wasn’t able to make the team.

But then I worked really hard over the next year and visited some practices and actually applied again as a sophomore and was able to make the team I found out about the team through. The annual Club Fair hosted at my school and actually signed up. I actually applied last year, but didn’t make the team. So I applied again this year and after my interview, I made the team and have really enjoyed working with it ever since.

That’s awesome. All. I was on an FFL team in New York and when I moved here I knew I wanted to join the FTC team because it gives that more hands-on engineering experience.

And let me tell you, Kara, if I can, how these kids go about being a member of the kids.

Yes. That’s what I was gonna ask, right, ? Yeah. Every April we hold a an open house so that any student at school can come down and see what the program is all about, how we run it, what we do, and then they have to fill out an applic. And through that application process, they are invited to interviews.

Interviews are done by former team members coaches of the team. And then based upon those interviews, what we do is we look for, we, we look at this team as a jigsaw puzzle. And we have returning pieces coming back the next year, and what we do is we try to find people who we think are going to mesh well with what we have returning so that we can have a cohesive team.

Once they’ve gone through the interview process, they’re invited onto the team, they then have to go there. They agree to go through a summer curriculum that we’ve put together for them. It is a six week program where one week they get a unit, a chapter, if you will, of the. Curriculum. The next week they get questions they have to answer, and as they go through those six weeks those answers depend.

Really whether or not they’re gonna be on the team, if they give us really poor work, that’s not gonna be conducive being on the team, they won’t make the team even though they’ve been invited to be on the team. And the, the goal of that summer curriculum is to get the students. Who are new is prepared as possible.

So when the season does start in mid-August, September, that they are able to jump right in and help out because there was a very steep learning curve to this program. And what we found early on was when we didn’t have a summer curriculum that there were students who came in, they were just totally lost, and we wanted to try to avoid that.

So we put that together for them. So it’s a, it’s a process of. You know, seeing what’s going on, applying, interviewing, which are things they’re gonna have to do when they get ready to go to college. Things they’re gonna have to do when they go get a job in the real work world. So not only are we asking them to be on this team, we are trying to prepare them for everything that’s gonna come down the road in their life as well.

Yeah. Which I think is a great approach, whether you guys know it or not. . . Yeah, because I’m curious. , what do each of you kind of plan to do in the future?

I’m a senior and so far I’ve applied to a bunch of colleges for computer engineering. Okay. . That and computer science are the two fields I, I see myself going into the future with, which has a lot to do with my time on the team. Mm-hmm. , Luke’s being very modest.

Luke, explain what award you guys got at the World Championships last year

we were nominated as one of seven finalists for the control award, which is the programming award that was offered at the World Championships.

Oh. So, okay, What all do you have to do to these robots?

We use a program called Sound Shape to CAD dollar stuff after we prototype.

I mentioned the weighted objective tables. Mm-hmm. . So we brainstormed a bunch of ideas and then we need to decide which one to use. So we throw it all into a decision matrix decide which one we want to use in a little more of a objective way. But with our own preferred weights, I guess. So then we cat it and we can, we cat each of the parts and we can see what we want to have.

Then we have to build it. So the place where we practice it’s a really good makerspace. . that lets us use their space and their tools and gives us training all for free. Awesome. Which, yeah, that is awesome. Which is very generous. Mm-hmm. , they’ve been doing that for a long time, and they have all sorts of machines like plasma cutters, laser cutters, saws , we have some 3D printers ourselves, and we use that all to put what we have on CAD into the real world and assemble it, wire it and then programming it.

Okay, so you guys are Building from scratch.

they are building, building from scratch. Building scratch. Okay. They get the ability to take their theoretical ideas, cab them, and then actually cut them out if you will. Machine them out, if you will. Mm-hmm. and and apply that in a real world setting.

Which is cool cuz I guess in my head I envisioned pieces of it being kind of like almost given to you to like say, take this and. Yeah. You know, make it do stuff. you purchase commercial off the shelf parts. Okay. Which is another part that kind of prepares us for engineering. Yeah. Cause we go through product catalogs and find which parts have the effects that we need in the dimensions that we, that would be, that would fit into our designs best.

Oh my gosh.

Our robot wouldn’t work very well if we tried to make our own motors. Oh, come on. You could probably put together some power version

Oh gosh.


What do each of you think that this being involved in this team has given you, like personally, whether it’s.

Extra friends or whether it’s, you know, just the real world skills of it or like what, what has been the most positive thing for you that’s come from being involved in the robotics team?

You learn of course, a lot about teamwork, how to work with others and about whatever you’re doing on the team, like CAD or programming or just assembling stuff.

I holds a lot of value in just the confidence I’ve gotten from being on this team because, Part of a competition is judging. Mm-hmm. . You have to stand in front of judges, explain your robot, explain your season and basically not freeze

we practice it a lot, but over time you get comfortable with it and you learn how to get comfortable.

Basically any situation where you’re trying to talk to someone, which is important. Yeah.

That’s great.

For me personally, just so far, I’ve only been on the team for a couple months, so I haven’t necessarily had the same like experience with like judging that I’m gonna have to find out later this year. Yeah. But I think like the. The space and like the really ability to go through the engineering design process at like a local maker’s space is like really been like instrumental to me in like, the way I see like where I wanna like go in the future in college or even a job.

I think like, because even at the start of the year, even in the summer, we. Wood and metal shop training at the manufacturing where we practice. And from there on it’s been like really opened up my eyes to the possibilities in engineering. I think that this team has just helped awesome me.

Awesome. Realize the value of others’ perspectives and their own experiences and how that makes them a valuable. Addition to whatever project I’m working on, I’ve worked on a few teams through school and through clubs and things like that. In the past, even on projects similar to this. But never have I been on one as Well meshed and well-balanced as this team and this kind of taught me to

just use others’ perspectives and their own experience and not just try to go it alone

yeah. No, that’s great.

Previous to being on this team, I didn’t really have the ability to talk to real engineers and talk to like-minded people, but being on this team has given me access to like all the tools I would be using as an engineer, and I’m able to talk to people who are also interested in it.

So it’s really refreshing to gain more perspectives about engineering and more knowledge about it.

I love that.

I’ve mostly developed my programming from robotics on my own and balancing what I need to know and what I want to learn

through robotics. I’ve especially learned a lot about machining and like what I said, talking to likeminded people and engineers, specifically at the manufacturer and makerspace. There are several engineers who are regulars there and or who work there, who are always ready to help us out, lend us tools, and show us how to use, for example, a manual mill degree apart.

Yeah, that’s really cool. I’m kind of jealous of you guys with that.

And I think the, the, the overriding thing that these guys also learn is the fact that if you’re a programmer, if you understand the build side of it, it’s much easier to do the programming because you know where the build’s coming from.

And if you’re a builder, you understand what the programmers need. So they learn how to work together and mesh really well. Which is, really valuable. I mean, even. other fields too, because we talk about this with like the guys in it who do like the wires and hardware type stuff, if they don’t understand the teaching side of things and, and vice versa, the teachers don’t understand the it.

it’s, it makes for, you know, it can’t disconnect there. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Makes for difficult situations when you’re coming from two different sides. Mm-hmm.

Hoda I was gonna ask you, I hate to single you out, but I wanted to know what it’s like to be the only, are you the only girl on the team or is Yeah. . Okay. What’s it like to be the only girl on the team? I mean, I would love there, I would love for there to be more girls on the team next year. But I work pretty well with the team and we’re all like, like-minded, so I don’t feel too much of a difference.

Like, I mean, I still like work pretty much the same as any other team member. Yeah, sure. I do think there’s like a little bit of a divide when it comes to like engineering, especially at like in high school. I like wish that there was more people who would try to like, get into it, like more women who try to get into it.

Yeah, I hope so too, cuz I think there’s a statistic where like if girls aren’t exposed to computer science or engineering by like the age of mm-hmm. like nine or 10, it’s something kind of wild that the likelihood of them going on to do a job within that realm is low.

We have that conversation too cuz we like initiatives like girls who code and yeah. Things. , put that focus on the younger, get ’em while they’re young. . Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome.

Rocky, tell us how you ended up coaching this?

I told you that it was a student led initiative. Yeah. What I didn’t tell you was the student was my son. Oh, . Oh, there you go. . That’s how you sucked in. Yeah. He went into the principal and . And really, he had done this in junior high where he went to junior highs, I, I shouldn’t say junior high.

Okay. Because Walnut starts in seventh grade. Mm-hmm. , he did this as a fifth and sixth grader where he went to school. Okay. And then when he went to Walnut, they didn’t have it. And he actually looked at the principal during the interview and said do you have robotics at your school? Because if you don’t, I don’t know if I can come to your.

And the principal . Yeah. Yeah. He’s a little different. I love it. And the principal, no, I love it. The principal knelt down, looked at him eye to eye and said, well, if you come to my school and you explain what it’s all about, we’ll look at getting it. And he goes, well, that sounds fair. I’ll come to your school

So when that all happened this is not a, this is a, if you will, a volunteer position. When he went in and did the the little presentation to the principal, oh, the principal turns around and goes, well, we need someone to coach it. We need someone to run it. And when your son turns and looks at you and Yeah, okay, I’m in

Yeah. And I’d, I’d watched him do it. My wife, my wife is the other coach. She’s the assistant coach. Oh. Oh, nice. Yes. So nice. We both got involved. We both understood it and, and the really neat thing. Neither one of us, my wife or I know how to program. Mm-hmm. know how to cad, know how to do any of those things.

But that’s not up to us. We’re not on the team. Right. We mentor them, we’re coaches. These kids do all the work. They have to learn it. They have to do it. Because they’re the ones who, when they get out in the real world, are gonna be re, re relied upon to get it done. Yeah. And that’s why it’s important in judging, because they can go in and judging and they can fully explain the exact process they did because they did it.

Right. I mean, there are people who, who can assist and help them, but they’re the ones doing the work. They’re the ones doing the research, they’re the ones failing. Learning from that failure, figuring out a better way to do it, failing again, figuring another better way to do it, and continue to iterate and, and move the process forward.

And that steads them really, really well when they get down the road because they know that they’ve. How to do things. They’ve learned how to fail, figure out what the failure was and how to move it forward.

Which that’s good. We love cause love that we talk about it all the time without the the failure and how Yeah.

It’s like a great learning. Yeah.

You have to learn that skill because it’s going to happen. Whether it’s in your personal life, professional life, things are gonna happen and you just have to figure out how to move forward.

Yep. I’m so glad you talked about that too, about you not necessarily being an expert, because I think there’s so many parents and educators who are hesitant to get involved with these sorts of clubs and activities because they’re not the experts, especially teachers.

We wanna be the expert before we teach something, and you really don’t need to.

No. The best way for these guys to learn isn’t somebody to tell them how to do something. Right. It’s them going out, figuring out how to learn how to do it, and then actually putting it together and creating it.

Yeah. It tastes the same with students too, because a lot of, a lot of people just say, you know, I don’t know how to program work. Never built a robot, but yeah, you know, you learn more on this team than at least I have ever learned outside of it. That’s awesome. That’s.

And the nice thing about this team is that the new team members are learning from the ones who are there and they keep building every time there’s a new group that come in. Yeah, they’re, they’ve got all the knowledge. It’s been passed down since 2012, since the original team started, so it’s very.

hands on it. It’s very again, as I said, I’ve said before, it’s student driven. These young people do all the work.


When these kids have finished this program, we ask them for one simple thing to do. And that is at some point in time in your life, when you’re able to do it, give.

there’s a lot of people who are giving a lot of things to these guys so they can do what they’re doing now, and somewhere down the road we would really like to see them pay that back and, and give back in, in some way, some shape, however they can do it that fits their world. Yeah. That’s awesome.

How long is a typical practice? On Friday we get to the manufacturing. , maybe around four ends, then stay as long as we need to. Which changes? So I would say around maybe eight. On average. Wow.

Oh my gosh. I’m just really impressed with the time commitment that you’re making to this. And that’s why they go through the interview process. Yes. Cause we know and understand what’s going to be required.

Yes. And if they’re not really up to that, then there’s someone that they’re not gonna mesh well with the team and it’s just not gonna.

We, we do have like a lot of time commitment our, in our robot. Mm-hmm. , we mm-hmm. . We’re an old team and wanna do it better every year, but not all teams put in exactly the immense amount of hours. Like some teams are more casual.

It all depends upon the goals of the team, and we sit down at the beginning of the year and say, what are the goals? If the goal is just to have fun, go have fun. If the goal is to make it to World Championships, well then there’s a level of dedication, a level of input that they’re gonna have to do in order to make it to that level.

Because in Ohio, specifically, within the 2 75 Loop, there were three teams last year from Ohio that made it to worlds. They were all from within the 2 75 Loop.

Oh, wow.

Yeah. So it’s, it’s a very competitive situation and if you want to do well, you have to be willing to put the time and the effort and the energy in, right?

Yeah. Which, bravo to all of you.

When you go to a competition, it’s a great experience cuz everyone’s really friendly and everyone seems to be having fun. , which is nice cuz it’s not something we experienced as much last year due to Covid. Oh yeah, I can see that. Yeah, for sure.

So if you’re on the robotics team, is this pretty much the only extracurricular you’re doing or are you able to do other things as well?

The number one priority. Is your schoolwork, and if their schoolwork suffers, they won’t be allowed to come to practice, so they have to stay up on that first. Then this comes afterwards, and that’s made very clear to not only the students, but the parents as well.

The first year when I applied, I was doing like multiple different sports, like soccer and swimming.

And really I just didn’t have a good idea of like actually how much time commitment there would be. So like, it was kind of like a rude awakening at the interview when I was like, oh, wow, that’s a lot more than I expected. But then like over the next year I was really. Learn more about what I like really liked and what I didn’t have as much time for.

And so I really like knew the actual time commitment that it would require when I applied the next year. Which I think helped me. that’s why I was, I was just thinking when I was in high school, I don’t think I could have done what you’re doing and a sport or anything like that. my, so, well, my soccer coach would not have had it.

But what you’re doing sounds way more interesting. I wish we would’ve had something like this. We had nothing. Nothing. Us. The nice, the nice thing about this program is the motto of first is that everyone can go pro in their chosen sport, and this is their chosen sport. Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s so exciting.

Yeah. it is. I’m just like, I’m very jazzed. We’re, we’re just getting started with Lego League in our house and I’m just so excited to hear how much you all are enjoying it and everything. I got sucked into coaching, so we’ll see how that…

well, if you need any mentors, there are two here who did that when they were younger.

Yeah. Well I may reach out to you. I’ve got a first grader, two second graders, a third grader, and a fourth grader. It’s gonna be wild ride. . . Good luck. Thank you. . Been there. Been there. Done that.

Well, thank you so much for talking to us. No, Kara, thank you. Yeah, , this is great.