Gene Haas Foundation Supports FIRST robotics competition at Ventura College

When the students of Clark Magnet High School’s Team 696 are met with a new challenge from the annual FIRST Robotics Competition, they apply their technical know-how and knowledge of Computer Aided Manufacturing to develop a high-quality robotic vehicle to face opponents in an intense sports-like game. In a period of only six weeks during the months of January and February, students used advanced software to design a full 3D CAD model, program and simulate CAM toolpaths, set up and manufacture hundreds of components, and develop software that coordinates the vehicle’s motions and automated routines. The team’s 2015 robot, named Centurion, is the most advanced the team has built in its 15 year history. The team will be competing with 43 others at the first annual Ventura Regional FIRST Robotics competition, taking place at Ventura College, March 27th through 29th.

Twelfth-grade student Olivia Brandt explained that, “In a span of just six weeks, we programmed and set up over a hundred unique CAM programs for just our one robot.” Setting up tools and running the Haas Mini Mill in the school’s lab is left to tenth-grade rookie team member Claire Garcia. While describing the part-to-production process, Garcia mentioned “a critical step of the set-up process is to interpret a accurate job sheet and verify its accuracy, so I can check tools, offsets, speeds, feeds, and depths before running a program for the first time.” In recent years, the team has seen an increase in girls in the program, now with twelve females as members of the 36-student team. Other girls on the team have taken roles as machinists who have become proficient in saw cutting and manual lathe operations. A driving force behind the increased female participation has been the schools Girls’ Engineering and Robotics (GEARS) club, formed two years ago, which has used the Haas Mini Mill to fabricate components for their custom-built quadcopter.

In the lab where the team works, the Haas Mini Mill, which has been the team’s primary workhorse machine for the past three years, has recently been joined by a Haas Super Mini Mill 2 with several options, including a probing system. When asked about the new machine, program director and instructor David Black said, “The Super Mini Mill 2 is the perfect complement to our program. With a high spindle RPM, increased torque, and a larger work envelope, we will be able to produce larger and more complex parts with shorter cycle times, to speed up class projects and the robot production schedule. As we continue to grow our program over the next two years, the final piece of machinery to complete our lab would be a Haas lathe.”

Last year, the school was one of two in the state that were awarded a Specialized Secondary Programs grant from the California Department of Education to develop a Computer Aided Manufacturing program. The grant provides funding to schools offering highly technical and advanced programs that provide students with industry-relevant skills in areas of high economic growth and need in the state. As part of the program, Clark will be writing model curriculum and producing video-based lessons to share digitally with other schools throughout the state. While computer aided manufacturing in general is not a new process, offering such an advanced program at the high school level is, and will help close the large skills gap in the manufacturing sector. As one of seven Haas Technical Education Centers in Los Angeles County, Clark Magnet has built a robust four-year pathway that begins with technology and engineering courses in the ninth and tenth grades, and progresses to manufacturing methods and the CAM certification class in twelfth grade. Students who are members of the FIRST Robotics Team 696 are able to advance to a second-year Advanced CAM class, which includes toolpath optimization, lathe setup, programming and operation, and more advanced project-based practice. The high school is in the process of articulating its courses with local colleges and universities, so students may earn college credit while still in high school, and begin at a higher level when they enter colleges.

While the school’s own lab is impressive for a high school campus, the students were amazed when they recently visited the Haas Automation factory in Oxnard, California. Students were impressed by the level of automation within the Haas factory. Eleventh-grade student Shay Sackett, who hopes to become either a manufacturing or automation engineer, commented, “I was amazed by the robotic spindle-grinding work cells. It’s neat to see machines making parts for other machines, and the robots can complete the repetitive tasks with a high degree of efficiency.”

To develop and sustain a high school program of this magnitude has been no easy feat. The school’s principal, students, instructors, and volunteer mentors all have contributed to the creation and improvement of the school’s 3,000-square-foot advanced engineering and manufacturing lab. Funding the program has been accomplished in part by the generous contributions of partners such as NASA, JPL, Walt Disney Imagineering, and the Gene Haas Foundation. For more information about Clark Magnet High School or FIRST Robotics Team 696, visit the school’s website at, the team’s website at,