Second annual Swamp Fest showcases collaborative spirit

A Kaotic Robotics student out of Frazee takes his turn on a unicycle during some free time at Swamp Fest at the Russ and Mary Anderson property in rural Greenbush. As several student participants mentioned, this event’s collaborative spirit allows for the chance to develop relationships and to improve as individuals and teams. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Bailey Maurstad (right) of the Badger Robotics team works on making her bracelet at the Alan and Val Truscinski property in Greenbush, as part of this year’s Swamp Fest activities. At the camp, students participated in different activities– of the robotics and non-robotics variety and of the large and small group variety at the Russ and Mary Anderson property in rural Greenbush and throughout the area on August 1-4. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

This year’s Swamp Fest student participants and mentors pose for a group photo at the Greenbush Race Park last week. A total of 55 students and 24 mentors representing nine different teams attended this robotics event in Greenbush– an increase from the seven teams at last year’s inaugural event. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

If one drove by the Russ and Mary Anderson property off State Highway 11 between Greenbush and Karlstad, they would have noticed a front yard filled by tents– 20 to be exact– some on the wooded side of the yard and others on the highway side of the yard.

In the evening, one side of these tents were filled by girls robotics students and the other by boys robotics students. By day, all these robotics students left their tents and participated in robotics-related and non-robotics-related activities, as part of the second annual Swamp Fest, August 1-4– an event hosted by both the Badger and Greenbush-Middle River Robotics teams that showcases the FIRST Robotics program’s collaborative spirit.

Russ Anderson, a Greenbush-Middle River Robotics mentor and one of the event’s organizers, said the collaboration developed at Swamp Fest is a reason this event is so beneficial. This collaboration includes both the students and mentors and goes beyond their time at the event.

“You can see in the building how they (the students) all mix and mingle. And it’s Saturday afternoon now and they’re pushing and shoving and having fun with other teams,” Anderson said, “but then as we have our breakout sessions and talk different ideas of how these teams actually run… the kids (are) having the different ideas. And then it brings it to the competition side of when we get to competitions, it’s not just (Team) 876 (out of Hatton-Northwood) is here. It’s, hey, it’s Mike and Ray and all the kids that collaborated here.”

Yogi Shimizu, one of the Swamp Fest organizers, and a FIRST Robotics MC and mentor also pointed to the collaboration when asked why this camp was brought back for another year.

“I think the students have really enjoyed having an opportunity outside of the competition season to get together, learn from each other and have a good time,” Shimizu said. “… We’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to just kind of think about how we can make the event more beneficial for the teams that are attending and we’re also trying to think about how we can include more teams, which is always a bit of a challenge.”

A total of 55 students and 24 mentors representing nine different teams attended the event– an increase from the seven teams at last year’s inaugural event. The list of teams at this year’s event included: the Swart Dogs from Cedar Falls, Iowa, Thunder Robotics from Hatton-Northwood, N.D., the Green Machine from Edina, Minn., The Robettes from Visitation School– an all-girls school in Mendota Heights, Minn., F.R.E.D. from Warroad, Minn., ProDigi from Thief River Falls, Minn., Kaotic Robotics from Frazee, Minn., Gator Robotics from Badger, and the Gators from Greenbush-Middle River.

At the camp, students participated in different activities– of the robotics and non-robotics variety and of the large and small group variety at the Russ and Mary Anderson property and throughout the area.

As a complete group or in small groups, the students made several stops around the area. They toured Central Boiler/Altoz and the Greenbush Fire Hall– providing the chance to ride on a fire truck– visited the Greenbush Race Park to take a group photo one day and then attend the races the next day, and stopped out at the Green Dairy Farm.

At the camp, teams participated in large group sessions, including: “Year in Review,” “Year Ahead and No Stop Build Day,” “ATV Safety Training with DNR,” and “Award Awareness and Preparation.” Speaking of ATVs, those seeking to earn their ATV certificate through the DNR– allowing them to ride any ATV– also participated in ATV test rides.

Students broke up into smaller group activities too. Some of these groups participated in robotics-related activities, including a “All About the Robots” session at the STEM Center where teams showcased their 2019 robots and discussed their past competition season. At the STEM Center, students also had some robot drive time. Participants also engaged in other robotics-related sessions, such as welding, programming, soldering, scouting and strategy, and safety.

Some students participated in small group activities not directly related to the robot, such as railcar design for the 2020 Great Northern Regional, fundraising and sponsorship, photography, writing, and working on the Swamp Fest Cookbook.

Students had the chance to participate in many other recreational and non-robotics activities. Some shot some rounds out at the Greenbush Trap Club. At the Alan and Val Truscinski property in Greenbush, students also had a chance to compete in a Corn Hole Tournament and make bracelets. Money raised from this Corn Hole Tournament– amounting to $1510– went towards the AED Machine to be placed by the wrestling room at the GMR School. Throughout the camp, teams also enjoyed bonfires and s’mores.

Alyson Purdy, Faculty Advisor for the Green Machine, brought her team back up to this area for a third time, first bringing them up in August 2017– about a year prior to the official start of Swamp Fest.

“We like building community with other teams and this has become a really strong collaborative community for all the teams involved,” Purdy said. “This year we’re expanding it (by) two additional teams, so we’re expanding the community and the impact.”

As several students mentioned, this camp’s collaborative spirit allows for the chance to develop relationships and to improve as individuals and teams.

“I love being able to hear advice from other teams on how to help my team grow in not only numbers but as people,” said Madison Svir, a senior with multiple roles on the ProDigi team.

Events such as this– that promote that collaborative spirit– also just make for a stronger overall FIRST Robotics community.

“If teams did not come together like this, Minnesota robotics and FIRST as a whole would not be as strong and successful as it is now,” said Paige Schaefer, a junior and team manager on the Kaotic Robotics team.

This reach and impact of Swamp Fest has the potential to even grow further. As Russ Anderson explained, teams for Canada and an overseas team inquired about coming to this event.

“So I mean it’s gotten to be known, this little farm in northwest Minnesota, where people are coming too, so that’s kind of cool,” Anderson said.

Who knows? Maybe one will see more tents on the Russ and Mary Anderson property next August– meaning more students and more mentors building on friendships and building on that FIRST Robotics collaborative spirit.

To see the complete story, read the August 7 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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