Career development Social Responsibility

Engineers inspire future innovators through high school robotics

6 min read / April 18, 2019 / Leah Harnack


At the 2019 FIRST Championship four-day FIRST robotics world competition, the high school Mukwonago Bears FIRST Robotics Team 930 finished in second place.

Across the globe, Komatsu employees mentor students, host facility tours and visit classrooms to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers and encourage the next generation of innovators. One area of focus for our STEM mentoring programs is in the field of high school robotics.

These high school robotics projects help students better understand mathematical concepts and applied physics while experiencing science and engineering challenges. When students learn and understand what engineers do, it demystifies the career path, furthers their interest and helps them establish peers with like-interests., all while providing them with real-world development experience that is transferable to potential career pursuits.

FIRST Robotics

Combining the challenge of science and technology with competitive excitement is what the FIRST Robotics Competition is about. High school student teams are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand, and build and program industrial-sized robots to play a difficult field game under strict rules and limited resources. The season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship.

Our employees volunteer their time to work with aspiring students several local teams and our company sponsors regional competitions in Milwaukee and Duluth. The students are supported both financially and with mentor support from members of our engineering teams. Komatsu is proud to support the FIRST organization and several local teams.

Members of the Mukwonago Bears FIRST Robotics Team 930 recently visited our National Avenue facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. Lead Engineer – Advanced Automation Chuck Payne has been a mentor to the Mukwonago team for three years and helped organized the visit.

“The FIRST Robotics Competition is designed to simulate, as much as possible, what it is like to design and build a real product, with the goal of competing in an exciting robotic game. The design challenges include a very tight schedule, strict budgets, and very precise game rules and requirements,” explained Payne. “In addition to the obvious technical experience the students gain, they also must learn about teamwork, leadership and collaboration in order to be successful. FIRST teams are organized and run very much like small businesses.”

While the FIRST Robotics season kicks off at the start of the new year, teams meet your-round to further develop their knowledge surrounding everything from electrical engineering, coding and mechanical design. Teams support their local community with service projects, as well as work to educate students in elementary and middle school, inspiring the next generation.

Team 930 ended this year with an amazing performance at the FIRST Championship, a four-day event that attracts more than 70,000 people from around the world, as well as 1,300 robots. Out of the 400 teams from 30 countries that qualified for the Detroit, Michigan, U.S., event, Team 930 finished in second place after advancing to the Einstein Finals at Ford Field. Team 930 is only the second team from Wisconsin to achieve that level of success.

Team 5855 from West Allis Central High School in West Allis, Wisconsin, was a rookie team mentored by Engineer II Jason Gaska. The team ended the qualification rounds as the 23rd ranked team out of 53, but got selected to compete in the playoffs and eventually went on to win the regional competition and advanced to the championships.

In the latest Wisconsin Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, PDM Administrator – Engineering Tracy Stefanski supported Milwaukee’s Barack Obama School of Career and Technology Education’s CougarBots team, which put up a strong fight through 10 matches.

Advanced Automation Engineer Wes Taylor has been a mentor to the New Berlin Blitz Robotics – FRC Team 5148 since 2013. The team is comprised of 7th through 12thgrade students from New Berlin, Wisconsin, schools New Berlin West Middle/High School and New Berlin Eisenhower Middle/High School. The team experienced a roller coaster of excitement during the Milwaukee Regional. On the first day, the team ranked second with a 7-0 record for the day. The next day the team fell to 15th, with a 7-3 record ― just outside of the top 8 needed to guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals. The team was selected by the No. 1 seeded alliance as the last selected team to move on and they performed very well during the quarterfinals but were eliminated 2-1.

VEX Robotics


Employees based out of Franklin, Pennsylvania, mentored the local high school VEX Robotics team, a competition presented by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation.

VEX Robotics provides the tools to inspire the problem solvers of tomorrow. Students have the opportunity to be inspired by the excitement of hands-on STEM learning, experience the feeling of creating something with technology, and for them to see that creative problem solving is fun and see its importance in shaping a better future.

As part of the competition, teams of students are tasked with designing and building a robot to play against other in a game-based engineering challenge. Classroom STEM concepts are put to the test on the playing field as students learn lifelong skills in teamwork, leadership, communications and more.

The team of students are employees worked with placed 5th out of 21 teams and were in the top three for winning autonomous rounds, which qualified them for the state competition.

Mentoring the team was Technologist-Entry Development Engineering Dan Hoover, Global Manager Smart Services James Wilson and CTE-Rotating Components, Gears Ian Ruscak.

BEST Robotics

Employees from our Franklin, Pennsylvania, facility also support BEST Robotics, a middle and high school robotics competition whose mission is to engage and excite students about engineering, science and technology, as well as inspire them to pursue careers in these fields. Through participation in this STEM-based program, students learn to analyze and solve problems utilizing the engineering design process, which helps them develop technological literacy skills.

Komatsu employees support BEST Robotics by serving as mentors to students involved in the program and by raising money to provide financial support.

Importance of STEM

Students in these high school robotics programs have a passion for engineering and robotics and it’s a great opportunity for the to see firsthand, how a manufacturing company uses the latest in robotics in automation. More than learning simply an overview of our company, as part of a STEM mentoring program, they tour our facility and see the electrical lab, the machinery factory and the advanced automation lab. Students also build their experience by presenting to our team what they’ve been working on and demonstrate their creations.

“It was my hope that by visiting, Team 930 could see how similar what we do here at Komatsu is to what they do in building their robots,” said Milwaukee’s Chuck Payne of the FIRST Robotics team visit. “Plus, the team wanted to thank Komatsu in person for being a very important sponsor in supporting their efforts.”

“FIRST Robotics teams are encouraged to present not only during the competition, but also throughout the year,” said Manager-Social Responsibility Cathy Stagmer. “It’s one of the key skills the students learn by participating in the program. Having the students present to our leadership and engineering team gives the students the opportunity to showcase everything they have learned.”

It is always exciting for our employees to see what these students accomplish in high school robotics and we value the lessons STEM mentoring programs like these teach the next generation of professionals. Not only are they building technical skills, but they are also learning about the business side of development, problem solving and overall teamwork.

By investing in STEM education, both financially and through volunteer service, we invest in the innovators and leaders of the future who will continue to identify solutions to solve mining’s toughest challenges.  

Hear directly from our employees why they mentor students in high school robotics and other STEM mentoring programs. Learn more about careers in engineering and product management at Komatsu.