Rogers High School’s “Iron Rams” robotics team culminated its fifth competition season on April 4 in an unexpected, yet satisfying finish.
The team of 18 students walked away from the FIRST Pacific Northwest District Championships in Cheney with their heads held high about finishing 60th out of 152 teams.
Although the team didn’t do well enough to qualify for the national championships in St. Louis, team adviser Tanya Marcoe said reaching the District Championships was reward enough.
“In the three years I’ve been on the team, this is the best I feel our team has been,” said Michael Isaksen, a senior and one of the robot drivers on the team.
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The team, which is made up of ninth- to 12th-graders, is very proud of what has accomplished this season, Marcoe said.
“We really didn’t think we were in a position to move on to the championships yet,” Marcoe explained. “We’re still learning a lot and developing our engineering skills.”
The Rogers robotics team is an ASB club affiliated with the national nonprofit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded in 1989 in Manchester, New Hampshire, by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen.
Kamen’s hope was that FIRST would inspire young people to have passion in science and technology via innovative mentor-based programs. FIRST robotics is a mentor-based program found in hundreds of schools nationwide and worldwide. In the Pacific Northwest alone there are 152 high school teams.
The competition season starts in early January when all teams receive a 200-page rule book that outlines the upcoming contest, whereby a team’s robot built from start to finish in six weeks will compete against other robots. At the kickoff, each team receives a basic kit of parts.
“The thing I love about it is every single team in the world has to play the same game, but every single robot is designed differently,” Marcoe said. “You can reach your goal with different creative ideas.”
Each of the 152 teams in the Pacific Northwest chooses two qualifying competitions to attend. This season, the Iron Rams chose to attend events at Shorewood High School north of Seattle and at Auburn High School.
It was at Auburn High where the Iron Rams met a positive twist of fate.
Out of 34 teams competing, the Iron Rams didn’t make it into the top 24. However, when the top eight teams chose their alliances for the final rounds of competition, Marcoe said the top two teams chose the Iron Rams to be part of their three-team alliance in the finals.
“Our robot was okay,” Marcoe said. “It wasn’t one of the top scoring robots at Auburn but the top two teams recognized that our robot did something that they needed.”
The Rogers team was part of the alliance which won the first place alliance seed, enough to move them onto Cheney and the District Championships.
The team is now starting to plan for the possibility that it will attend the District Championships in 2016, which includes brainstorming fundraising projects to raise the required $4,000 registration free.
“It was kind of frightening to make it to the championships and not have the money for it,” Marcoe said. “We see that we have to raise a lot of money up front so we’re not scrambling.”
Parents and families were phenomenal in mobilizing this season around the team to ensure students were able to go, Marcoe said.
Both Isaksen and his friend, Amy King, also a senior, said they enjoy being on the team because of the opportunity it affords them to be creative and build things.
“My intended (college) major is going to be interior design,” King said. “But I also want to take something in architecture. I’m going into creating things and being innovative.”
Isaksen is planning to be an engineer in the automated system field.
“My uncle is an aerospace engineer for Boeing, and my grandfather was an electrical engineer for the U.S. Navy,” Isaksen said.
Marcoe is encouraged by the team’s results this season. At the same time, she hopes to recruit more volunteer mentors that can teach the students engineering skills.
“The students learn a lot on their own,” she said. “It takes a lot of time in those six weeks to troubleshoot and problem solve. It would be nice for someone to share what is done in the industry.”
One mentor who’s been with the team since the beginning is Bruce Goetsch, from PLATT Electric, who mentors students on team values and work ethic.
Marcoe encourages more mentors to come forward to teach.
“It’s really a program where 100 percent of what’s done is done by students,” Marcoe said.