Spotlight on the P-CCS Lightning Robotics Team

National Robotics Week is celebrated April 2-10, 2022 with the intention of inspiring students' interest in STEM and robotics. We spoke to Jay Obsniuk, the staff advisor for Plymouth-Canton Community School District's Lightning Robotics team, to learn more about the team's structure and achievements. 

The P-CCS Lightning Robotics team has been active since 1999 when they joined the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition. Obsniuk shared that the team strives to “provide opportunities for students to develop STEM and business skills, as well as to instill the Lightning Robotics values of Student leadership, Teamwork, Resilience, Inspiration, Knowledge, and Engagement (STRIKE).”

Due to the number of students interested in participating, the Lightning Robotics team divides individuals into separate but interdependent groups. “We take a unique approach to manage our large size while optimizing productivity," Obsniuk explained. "This season, we redesigned our team structure and created new leadership positions to ensure effective communication and to accommodate team growth. Our biggest change was the division of our team into two operations: Engineering Operations and Business Operations.”

Each Operation is broken down into smaller groups and the elected vice presidents oversee the collaboration inside their operation while reporting to the team's elected president. The vice president of Engineering Operations manages the design, electrical, fabrication, programming, controls, scouting and strategy, and safety subgroups, while the vice president of Business Operations manages the communications, marketing, and outreach subgroups.

The team's student board includes the elected president, vice presidents, treasurer, and secretary. To further the core skills of STRIKE, student leads are chosen to work with the group's mentor lead. "Each student lead is chosen through an interview process after the conclusion of competition season," Obsniuk said. "The students selected will assume their offices after the annual end-of-the-year team banquet.”

The Lighting Robotics team boasts a long list of achievements. In 2017, they won the St. Louis World Championship, as well as the FIRST® Class 2017 Festival of Champions, alongside Team 2767 Stryke Force, Team 254 The Cheesy Poofs, and Team 1676 The Pascack Pi-oneers. They have also won a district-level Excellence in Engineering Award, district and state-level Entrepreneurship Awards in 2018, as well as a district-level Chairman’s Award in 2015. The team was also the 2019 Michigan State Championship winner and placed 5th at the world championships, winning the Daly division.

Obsniuk also highlighted the team achievements outside of robotics, including mentoring thirteen FIRST® Tech Challenge teams (FTC teams). Lightning Robotics has also hosted seven FIRST® Tech Challenge events and seven First® Lego League (FLL) Jr. Expos, the latter designed for children ages 4-16 with a focus on learning through problem-solving. 

Ultimately, Obsniuk strives to teach students that they have the ability to make a difference in the world. The team hosts and participates in a variety of community service, outreach and fundraising events. Robots in the Park, a free, day-long event held in downtown Plymouth, has reached over 6,600 community members in its 4-year history. Since 2005, they have raised over $55,000 for cancer research at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. 

"We teach leadership skills and get involved with many as community service projects as we can," Obsniuk said. "Right now, our outreach group is collecting donations for the FIRST STEP shelters, and we are planning to host a diversity event to show that engineering and STEM are for everyone.”

The team has participated in and hosted over 40 different outreach and community service events, including the following notable activities. 

  • Rotary Chicken Dinner (2003-present): Each year, the team helps the Plymouth Rotary Club to prepare over 10,000 meals during their Chicken Dinner event, which raises funds for a variety of charitable causes. 
  • Salvation Army Bell Ringing (2008-2016): Team members have participated in this service activity for 10 years, ringing bells and singing carols to raise money for those in need.
  • United Way Make a Difference Day (2010-present): Members volunteer annually for United Way in the Plymouth-Canton area by cleaning the yards of senior citizens and residents in need.  
  • Relay for Life (2005-present): The team hosts a robot-driving booth at the American Cancer Society’s Canton Relay for Life event. Through on-site and online donations from team members and families, they have raised over $50,000 in their 14-year involvement. 
  • 8th Grade Extravaganza (2005-present): To recruit new members, students present their robots to incoming freshmen from district middle schools.
  • Liberty Fest, 4th of July, and Michigan State Fair Parades (2006-present): Members drive their robots in local parades, demonstrating the team’s capabilities.
  • Girl Scout Robotics Exploration Day (2014-present): To spark girls’ interest in STEM fields, the team hosts a Girl Scout Robotics Workshop. Activities include cardboard circuit building, straw tower construction, and robot driving. 
  • Robot Unveil (2005, 2006, 2012-present): To showcase their hard work during the 6-week build season, the team unveils the robot to parents, board members, faculty, and sponsors at the end of the season.
  • FTC Qualifier (2012-present): This event is annually hosted at Canton High School. In 2015, the event was a double qualifier. In 2017, the FTC Qualifier had 39 teams in attendance, with 110 Lightning-affiliated volunteers filling roles such as inspector and referee. 
  • Tour D’Robots (2013-present): At the end of the school year, seniors travel to 14 elementary and middle schools to present the robots, introducing students in the district to robotics. 
  • Robots in the Park (2015-present): This free, day-long event held in downtown Plymouth hosts 11 activities to get younger members of the community interested in FIRST, STEM, and the team. They have reached over 4,900 attendees in the event’s 3-year history. 
  • Gigawatt’s FLL Jr. Expo (2015-present): The team bi-annually hosts FLL Jr. Expos at Canton High School with activities including Rainforest Rescue, cup towers, and driving a former Lightning robot. These activities help reinforce skills like teamwork, public speaking, and organization to younger generations of FIRST students.  

The future of P-CCS Robotics is bright, and Obsniuk looks forward to getting back into live competition. Since March 2020, the team has only been competing virtually. 

P-CCS Lightning Robotics is scheduled to compete March 11-12, 2022 in the Milford district and April 1-2, 2022 in the Macomb district. If they qualify, they will attend state championships from April 13-16, 2022 at Saginaw Valley State University, and hopefully, the world championships in Houston from April 20-23, 2022.