February 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New York School Librarian Leads Robotics Club to Compete in Robots Competition


The robotics club of New Rochelle High School in New Rochelle, NY/Ryan Paulsen

When New Rochelle (NY) High School Principal Reginald Richardson put out the call for someone to help oversee a new robotics club at his high school, Ryan Paulsen, the school’s librarian, stepped forward.

“He was just so passionate about it,” Richardson said of Paulsen.

Paulsen, who has worked at the school for two years, said the decision to head up the robotics club was a no brainer, despite having no prior experience in engineering or science.

“I grew up watching BattleBots [a TV show about robots], and so as a librarian, my interests are kind of everywhere. It just kind of seemed like a cool thing,” said Paulsen, who got his Masters of Library Science degree at Queens College. “I’ve always been into sci-fi.”

With the help and support of other faculty members, parents, other neighboring schools with active robotics clubs—and a rookie funding grant from NASA—Paulsen coached 30 students on a journey to their first major robotics competition—FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC)—a regional competition for participants which took place April 4-6 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

The event attracts schools from across the nation and world. The goal is to get students to think critically and challenge them to build a robot while combining math, science, and tech—along with business and marketing skills.

To qualify for the FRC, Paulsen and the New Rochelle robotics club, the Huguebots—a nod to the lake next to the school, Huguenot Lake—had to build a fully functional robot to compete against other schools at the regional competition within six weeks. The teams participating in the competition play a game where their robots face off against other schools to score the most points possible by putting a ball in a goal during a two minute and 30 second match.

Watch an example of how the robots would face-off at the FRC here:

To get to the April competition, Paulsen and students used the school’s library—both for research and as a place to build.

There weren’t many space options immediately available to accommodate the club.

“It just got to the point that I said, ‘you know what, I have control over the library, because it’s my space, so we’re just going to work here,’” Paulsen said.

Junior David Schwartz was skeptical at first about working in the library.

“But, if you think about it, the library is such a huge space, and you can spread out. You have work stations. It really helped,” said Schwartz, who is the co-president of the club.


The school library became the work space for the Huguebots./Ryan Paulsen

New Rochelle junior, Anita Pruzinsky, the club’s marketing and business manager, said, “There was lots of research. I had to research… how to make a business plan and research business in technical way.”

Richardson said that what Paulsen and the students in the robotics club have been able to do—combining the research and various amount of information—is the future of the library and a librarian’s role.


“The library is place of action,” said Richardson. “It’s not a museum.”

To other school librarians thinking about starting a similar club at their school, Paulsen says not to let the fear of not having the tech skills or background be a deterrent.

“Even though I didn’t have the technical skills, the fact that as a librarian, research is second nature to me, I would never get overwhelmed by the idea of learning or finding the information about how to do something. I knew I could always [fall] back on my research skills, and find the information I needed or my team needed at the time,” Paulsen said.

Teams competing in FIRST competitions are paired up with mentors who have the tech and engineering skills to assist teams as they build their robots.

Mike Siegel, a FIRST senior mentor, guided Paulsen’s team as they went through the process. His advice to those who want to start a robotics club is to go check out a regional competition in their area, and see it in action.

“It’s a little hard to understand it, but after you’ve seen it, you’ll become so excited that you’ll want to start one at your school,” said Siegel.

As one of the several rookie teams that competed in this year’s competition, the New Rochelle Huguebots were awarded the Rookie Inspiration Award, which “celebrates a rookie team’s outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school, as well as in their community.”

The FIRST championship national competition is in St. Louis, MO April 23-26.

Leezel Tanglao is a New York-based multimedia journalist who has worked at NowThis News, ABCNews.com, KCBS/KCAL, and The Press-Enterprise newspaper. She is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association and the Online News Association.