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Robotics team reaches out

Students attending WL-WV high schools in the fall are invited to robotics open house


Most of the youngsters attending a robotics open house at Inza R. Wood Middle School June 2 had eyes only for the colorful Lego pieces moving around the table.

The parents who accompanied them seemed more interested in the conversation about the skills robotics team members develop, including teamwork, communication and problem-solving.by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Samantha Edwards joined the high school robotics team as a rookie freshman. Here, she visits Boeckman Creek Primary School as part of the teams outreach strategy, encouraging younger students to get involved in robotics.

Students in West Linn and Wilsonville schools have opportunities to participate in parent-led robotics teams at all grade levels, from Lego robotics in the younger years all the way up to the high school robotics team. WL-WV participates in the FIRST robotics, a group founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen. The acronym stands for “for inspiration and recognition of science and technology,” and FIRST bills its competitions as “the ultimate sport for the mind.”

The event at Wood was the last in a series of outreach events designed to draw attention not only to the high school robotics team but also to the options available for students as young as kindergarten.

“We’re trying to get the word out about robotics,” Maritiza Perez, a junior, said at the open house.

“We’re going to shoot a couple of Frisbees,” ninth-grader Samantha Edwards said.

“And hopefully inspire kids to join robotics,” classmate Adrian Hardt added.

The robotics season begins with the school year, with competitions starting in early December and just past the first of the year for the high school team. High school robotics adviser Kris Troha revealed that the next year’s robotics challenge will have an education theme, in which students are asked to use robotics to solve an education-related problem.

At the lower levels, FIRST challenges require teams to build a robot to solve a themed challenge. The teams also design a solution to a real-world problem and make a presentation to judges.

“There’s a value in teamwork that judges are looking for — the communication aspect and how the team works together,” Troha said.

“Robots are really not what it’s all about,” Tim Bennington-Davis, a high school robotics mentor, confirmed.

Although his main focus is the high school team, Troha emphasized the value of participating in robotics in primary and middle school as well.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Team member Adrian Hardt makes an adjustment to FIRST Team 1425s robot.“Much like sports, you develop a group of younger people who develop fundamental skills,” Troha said. Although students with mechanical, electrical and engineering experience are welcome to join the high school, the top skills Troha listed are long-term problem-solving, teamwork and communication.

The high-schoolers in attendance also listed some specific needs the team has identified for next year. Along with more adult mentors, the team’s wish list includes beefing up the electrical and marketing teams and increasing the strategy team’s role.

Perez, Edwards and Hardt encouraged any interested students who will attend high school in the fall to drop by a special open house just for them. Scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., the open house at Wilsonville High School will provide more information about what students can expect from the high school team. Just as on the younger teams, technical expertise is less important than a willingness to learn and become involved.

“When you join, you really need to take initiative. The way to get involved is to ask questions,” Hardt said. “Just come try it out for a few weeks. The best time to come is when school gets out. If you come to our open house, we’ll have a lot of handouts.”

“The summer is pretty much where I’ve learned everything I know about robotics,” Perez said.

This year, she will put that knowledge to the test as she serves as the team’s co-leader, working alongside West Linn High School’s Tori Bianchi, a rising senior.

Bianchi will take on a lot of the administrative tasks, such as awards submission, planning outreach and paperwork, while Perez will tackle the technical side, coordinating the various teams including mechanical, electrical and software.

“I’ve never really been much of a leader. It will be a good experience for all the new (team) leads,” Perez said.

Perez knows how important leadership is, especially for younger and possibly inexperienced members, and she is committed to following the example set by this year’s team lead, Karen Harper, who will graduate from Wilsonville High School this week.

“I was a really shy freshman,” Perez said. “I had a lot of ideas that I didn’t really want to share. Karen was a bridge, sharing my ideas with the group until I got more comfortable.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - 2014 robotics team leader Karen Harper led the team through this years competition season. The team's disappointing finish at the year's final outing - when a mechanical problem put the team out of competition - did not overshadow the teams success.Troha said that concept of leadership and mentoring may extend beyond the bounds of the high school team.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about having high school students be mentors for the Lego teams,” he said.

With just two seniors — Harper and Lance Sheeley — leaving the team this year and a full slate of learning sessions planned for the summer, Troha expects to start strong in the fall.

“Our rookies from last year are now veterans, and they’re stepping into leadership roles,” Troha said. “We always continue to improve.”


By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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