The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


After Impact Award Win, Titan Robotics Whizzes to Worlds


Chloe Yokitis


For the second year in a row, Titan Robotics is heading to the FIRST Championship, the global competition for high school robotics teams. Titan Robotics, also called FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 5587, qualified for the April 19-22 competition in Houston, Texas after winning the prestigious Impact award at the Chesapeake District Championship in early April.

The Impact Award is given to teams that have strong community involvement and an emphasis on encouraging youth in STEM. 

“[Impact is about] your STEM outreach, what you’re doing in your community, what you’re doing with younger teams and camps— how you’re setting an example in your community for what STEM can be and what STEM can do,” said Christina Lytle, a mentor for Titan Robotics. “Six teams that won in previous competitions compete for the Impact award at the district level, and two of them win.”

Freshman Taylor Marfori, right, shows a student how to operate a robot’s controller at William Ramsay Elementary School’s Spring Fling on April 15 / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

The district winners of the Impact Award, previously named Chairman’s Award, get automatic entry to worlds. These teams compete their robots in the main robotics competition while also separately competing for the global Impact award. Titan Robotics’s robot is named Scalene, and like every other team, it built the robot in six weeks beginning in January to fit the year’s theme and regulations.

“I’m so proud of these students, but you never know if that’s going to translate and if others are going to see what you see,” said Lytle, who has been with Titan Robotics since 2015 after her child joined the team. “So it’s just very gratifying to see that others recognize the value and the effort that they put forward all the time.”

Titan Robotics has around 30 team members and 15 mentors. From left: Alvaro Santi, Taylor Marfori, Sasha Wiggins, Taylor Hoganson, Ethan Corazza, Mohammed Boulhaddat / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

The competition process for the Impact Award includes submitting written responses to questions as well as a 10,000 character essay. In addition, teams must also submit a video that highlights the program and present a physical presentation.

Each team has seven minutes to present, followed by five minutes of questioning from judges. At the FIRST Championship, sophomores Malena Walker, Sasha Wiggins and Taylor Hoganson will present.

After winning the Impact Award at the FIRST District Championship, members of Titan Robotics pose for pictures with their medals. From left: Hazel Belmont, Charlie Sokolove, Quinn Lindsey, Nick Kruse, Malena Walker, Zachary Harris / Photo courtesy of Titan Robotics

“The goal is to have a creative presentation that still conveys your program,” said Awards Lead Jack Pache, a junior.

As the team’s Awards Lead, Pache organizes the team’s “plan of attack.” For this year’s Impact Award submission, he wrote the majority of the written portion and also presented the Impact presentation at the local event that qualified Titan Robotics for districts. Many students work on the presentation itself while a smaller team of students serve as presenters and backup presenters.

Pache and sophomore Leo Dienstfrey, who is involved with Titan Robotics and takes the TV/Media Production class, created the team’s 2023 video

Wiggins, who is a K-8 Specialist and has presented multiple times this year, said that awaiting and hearing the team’s results at the local event which qualified the team to districts made her emotional. 

“I was shaking because I knew that this is something that we had to win, and I wanted the affirmation that I did a good enough job for that,” she said. “Before your team’s name is called, they explain the award and make a few puns before announcing the team itself. After sitting in those stands for over ten hours and having bits and pieces of your presentation be explained on the speakers, it was so hard to contain the excitement. I have to admit that when we were called, I cried; this award is acknowledgement that what we are doing is meaningful to our community. And also that my public speaking class paid off!”

Alvaro Santi, left, has been on the Titan Robotics team for two years, and Sasha Wiggins, right, has been on the team for one year / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

The team’s Impact presentation is centered on its mentorship with younger students. The Titan Robotics Pipeline is the idea that outreach and education for K-8 students encourages youth to join Titan Robotics in high school and then continue to cultivate their passions for STEM later in life. 

“FIRST is all about reaching these younger students through robotics and having kids come work together for a common goal,” said senior Alvaro Santi, who is the Titan Robotics Chief Operating Officer and was part of the presentation team for the 2022 Impact Award. “[We are involved] anywhere we get in touch with our community and are able to show these younger students everything about robotics. It’s just really nice having them drive a robot or watching them drive the robot around. They get really excited, even though it wasn’t a tough thing, getting that robot moving.”

Freshman Mohammed Boulhaddat, right, hands an elementary schooler a Titan Robotics wristband / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

Currently, Titan Robotics oversees 28 local K-8 robotics teams which the team supports at varying levels, depending on what the team needs. These K-8 teams operate as a part of Titan Robotics.

“[Our goal is to] educate everyone in our community regardless of financial, economic or racial barriers,” said Pache. “Every time I see a kid’s face light up as they drive our robot and ask a bajillion questions makes me smile.”

Jack Pache, pictured, was nominated by the team for the Dean’s List, a prestigious FIRST award for sophomores and juniors based on leadership and dedication. Although he did not move on after the district level, he was recognized as a Semi-finalist. “To be nominated meant a lot to me because I undervalue a lot of my work, and to see it appreciated by others made me feel valued and a part of something,” he said. / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

Out of these 28 teams, 27 were created by Titan Robotics since the end of 2021 (the other team was the only team that survived through Covid). Titan Robotics continues to support these teams by providing mentorship, donating materials and helping out with registration costs. As part of the team’s emphasis on sustainability, Titan Robotics teaches the students how to market their teams and write grants.

The team works with both FIRST Lego League (FLL) and FIRST Tech Competition (FTC) elementary and middle school teams. One of the middle school FLL teams that Titan Robotics created and supports is located at George Washington Middle School and called Prexie Robotics.

“At GW Middle School, we mentor their team and give them advice. They actually went to states this year,” said sophomore Samah Shummo, Titan Robotics’s Fundraising Lead. “We’re really proud of them.”

Titan Robotics members meet ACPS School Board Member Christopher Harris and Interim Superintendent Dr. Melanie Kay-Waytt. From left: Christopher Harris, Taylor Hoganson, Ethan Corazza, Mohammed Boulhaddat, Taylor Marfori, Sasha Wiggins, Melanie Kay-Wyatt / Photo courtesy of Missy Estabrook 

The team also leads a weekly club for middle schoolers and annual STEM and health sciences camps for K-9 youth in partnership with AIM-AHEAD, a NIH fellowship grant program focused in Virginia. This year, three of the seven camps will be free of cost for attendees, thanks to AIM-AHEAD’s contribution of two million dollars’ worth of materials.

As Outreach Lead, Hoganson is the primary organizer for Titan Robotics’s outreach events and camps.

“One of my big policies around the camps is that I want to go as fast as the kid is able to go,” said Hoganson. “We have lesson plans, but it’s more of an activity list of things to cover. We’ll adapt it to how fast they move. We have had camps where we’ll get to a tenth of the activity plan, or we’ll have camps that move so much faster than normal, and we have to come up with stuff on the spot.”

Taylor Hoganson, left, and Taylor Marfori, right, investigate and fix team’s outreach robot, which is used solely for community events, after it stops working during an event / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

Titan Robotics’s Impact presentation also covers the Alexandria community and the culture of the team.

“Our No Fees policy is really crucial [to the team’s inclusivity]. Because our school is really diverse, with so many backgrounds, we want everyone to come to robotics and not worry about that,” said Shummo. “So, we pay for meals when we stay late, and we cover transportation to worlds and competitions, completely free.”

This policy is considerably unique to Titan Robotics, as many high school robotics teams expect students to pay registration fees to join the team as well as travel costs.

Titan Robotics also has No Cuts and No Skills Required policies.

“Regardless of experience, we welcome anyone,” said Shummo.

A student cuts out a design of the Titan Robotics logo overlaid with the Pride flag to make buttons that will be distributed at the FIRST Championship / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

The makeup of the team is diverse, with the majority of leadership identifying as non-male and 68% of members identifying as LGBTQ+. Titan Robotics is a Silver Tier partner of LGBTQ+ of FIRST, a student-run organization that aims to make FIRST teams more welcoming.

Titan Robotics also partners with other high schools through a program that Titan Robotics created this year called the NOVA Alliance. The team wrote about it in its Impact application as an example of the team being role model within the FIRST community.

“This is an alliance with other FRC teams in Northern Virginia,” said Titans Robotics president Nick Kruse, a senior, who helped launch the partnership. “The purpose of the alliance is to create a connection with teams that are close to us and provide information, tools, practice space and a sense of community. FIRST is a competition, but the main difference is that FIRST values collaboration with other teams and how we can work together to achieve a common goal.”

As president, Nick Kruse, pictured, supports his teammates, organizes logistics for meetings and competitions, and acts as the team’s representative when reaching out to community members. He joined Titan Robotics in eighth grade after learning about robotics in seventh grade. “From that first meeting, I knew that this was where I belong,” he said. / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

Kruse’s main goal for Titan Robotics in his final few months as president is to encourage the team to learn from other programs. The 2023 FIRST Competition will be his third (as well as the team’s third) year attending, and Kruse hopes that the event will serve as a learning experience.

“We will be among world-class teams, the best of the best,” he said. “We should talk to them and learn what they do and how they do it. Take inspiration from these teams and see how we can improve upon our own methods, so that we will have the chance to come back in future years!”

Freshman Megan Trueblood, pictured, joined Titan Robotics this year after moving to Alexandria / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

After the FIRST Championship, the 2023 season ends, but Titan Robotics will continue to do outreach with youth for the rest of the year and then lead its annual summer camps in July and August. The Titans are also participating in Spring2ACTion, an Alexandria-based fundraising event for nonprofits, which takes place on April 26. In early giving, the team has already raised over $10,000, including a $5,000 match from longtime sponsor Building Momentum. 

Money raised goes towards providing food and transportation costs for members, costs for supporting the FLL and FTC teams, as well as scholarships for youth attending the summer camps. 

Samah Shummo, pictured, is the team’s Fundraising Lead and helps lead the team’s social media / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

“All the Spring2Action, grant writing, how to work with sponsors— this makes it all possible. That’s why it’s so crucial for students to learn those skills here. It’s student-run, so it’s important that they learn these skills because it sustains us. Everyone needs to learn grant writing, everyone needs to help out, everyone needs to contribute, or else we wouldn’t be a team,” said Shummo.

The skills that Titan Robotics members learn through the program will stay with them throughout their lives, Santi said.

“I’ve learned how to do things like writing grants for companies to sponsor us, writing professional emails, networking, public speaking. It’s something you learn along the way and you don’t even realize it until you come along and you decide to reflect. But at the same time, you’re also interacting with all these amazing people— all these knowledgeable, intelligent, passionate people,” they said. “And you don’t really realize it until you’re in your final year.”

At William Ramsey’s Spring Fling event, Titan Robotics members speak to parents and discuss the program / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

As seniors prepare to graduate, they will soon fulfill the third role of the Titan Robotics pipeline— alumni.

“I’m really grateful for what this team has given me, and I’m excited to be an alumni now,” said Santi. “I want to give back to what they gave me.”

Featured image from left: Taylor Marfori, Mohammed Boulhaddat, Ethan Corazza, Taylor Hoganson, Sasha Wiggins, Alvaro Santi / Photo by Chloe Yokitis

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After Impact Award Win, Titan Robotics Whizzes to Worlds