Nevada High School sophomore Riley Bremer, 15, has tried a lot of things. He’s done sports, he’s done Boy Scouts, he’s been in dramas … but nothing really fit his interests until he found FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition).
This school year was his first year in FRC, as a member of Team Neutrino, a Story County group of kids who are mostly from Ames. Bremer is the only Nevada team member at this time, although the team has as one of its mentors, David Runneals, a 2013 graduate of Nevada High School, who will be a senior at Northwest Missouri State this coming fall. Runneals, who is double majoring in geographic information sciences and emergency and disaster management, was taking classes at DMACC during the past two years and serving as one of the team’s mentors.
Bremer has appreciated getting to know his Nevada High School forerunner. “(David’s) great — he’s fun and he doesn’t tell you what to do. He just leans back and says, here’s the rope … if you need help, I’ll be here,” Bremer said.
Bremer said all of Team Neutrino’s mentors are like that, helping the team to be very “student-led,” he said.
Made up of 30 high school students, all of them, including Bremer, went through an interview process before making the team last fall. When over 100 kids go to summer camps to learn more and want to be part of a team, it’s a pretty great thing to be selected, Bremer agrees.
He believes his participation last year in FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge), which he did with others here in Nevada, probably helped him make the cut. FTC, like FRC, builds robots, but on a much smaller scale. Still, Bremer put his all into FTC. The club met weekly, but he was in the middle school room where they worked almost every night after school. “I really enjoyed building the robot,” he said.
His mom, Sandy, works at Iowa State University in the engineering department, and she helps do paperwork for Team Neutrino. “She thought maybe I should watch what they were doing,” Bremer said.
So he and his mom attended an FRC event, the Iowa Regional, held at University of Northern Iowa last year.
“I got to talk to some of the team members and watch a couple of their team members work in the pits,” Bremer said. And he was sold on what he was seeing and hearing. So he applied to become part of the team.
The first part of the school year, he said, involves meetings and fundraising activities, then after the winter break, the real excitement begins.
For six weeks straight, during what is called the “build period,” Bremer said, “we build (the team’s robot) every day during the school week, from 4-8 p.m.”
This year, Bremer was on the manufacturing part of the team, which is a subteam that manufactures the parts for the robot. “We made the parts and put it together,” he said. From there, the robot goes to the electrical subteam, then to the programming subteam and eventually to the three-person drive team. “We all get to watch them (the drive team) practice,” he said.
This year, Team Neutrino did two regional competitions, the Iowa Regionals and the North Star Regionals in Minneapolis. It was in the Twin Cities that they hit it big, capturing the Chairman’s Award, which qualified them for the World Championships in St. Louis at the end of April.
The Chairman’s award, as Bremer explains, is significant in that it shows a team embodies all that FIRST stands for. That includes the team’s ability to fund raise, design a business plan, show good team work and good sportsmanship.
A press release from the university shows that Team Neutrino receives support from grants and in-kind donations through many sponsors and partners, including John Deere, Danfoss, Monsanto Fund, CIT Signature Transportation, Quality Manufacturing, Interstate Batteries, Ames Electric Services, Iowa 4-H Foundation, Emerson, Jimmy John’s, Meier Bernstein Arts in STEM Project, Thrivent Financial, Accurate Perforating Company, Story County 4-H, Boyd Lab (where the team works on its robot) and the Iowa State University College of Engineering. The team especially appreciates the support of John Deere, which provides them with registration fees and mentors — a total of $13,000 for the season.
Bremer said competing at the World event was incredible. “There were 1,395 teams from 39 different countries,” he said. “It was huge, and it was in a huge building with teams everywhere and people speaking different languages. It was mind-blowing.”
The 1,395 teams were split into six fields of competition, with over 200 teams per field. Bremer said Team Neutrino finished 11th in its field. “We made it up to seventh, but then lost two matches,” he said.
But 11th out of over 200 — and finishing in the top 10 percent of over 400 international teams — that’s something to be proud of and it’s something that caused a huge revelation for Bremer.
Since being at the World event and going through the past school year in FRC, “I got a new outlook on things,” he said. “I’ve done some soul searching, and this is it … this (FRC) is what I’m going to stick with (as far as high school activities go), and I would like to mentor some day, too.”
It’s the atmosphere of having friends on a team who like what he likes that has pulled him in, Bremer said. “This is hands-on, and we’re all having fun.”
Plus they’re preparing for their futures. Bremer said he plans to some day attend Iowa State for mechanical engineering. “I’m sure being in FRC is going to help a ton with mechanical engineering,” he said. “A lot of the team members get hired as technicians for the ISU engineering department.”
Bremer comes from a sports-minded family, and said his older sister and three younger brothers are all very sports-minded, while he’s always sitting in his room working on stuff. “I’m the oddball,” he said. But that doesn’t matter when you love what you’re doing and finally believe you’ve found the thing that fits you best.
“I think it’s (FRC) not for everybody, but I think it’s great,” he said. What he’d really like now is to try to find a few more kids in Nevada who might enjoy FRC as much as him. “It would be great to have some kids from Nevada on the team to talk to about it.”