SODA robotics students competing today

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The School of Dreams Academy robotics team will compete in the WARP XX BEST 2012 Design contest today in Las Cruces.

BEST, Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology, is a non-profit organization started by two Texas Instruments engineers, Ted Mahler and Steve Marum, to promote team problem solving in middle and high school robotics competitions, and get students interested in engineering, science, and technology classes and careers.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: SODA student Seth Howe, left, a member of the middle school robotics team; Danielle Garcia, on the high school team; Chloe Grub, the robotics coach for the middle school team; Kenneth Griego, the school’s governing council president; and Susan Garcia, SODA executive assistant, received a preview of the robotics team’s game plan for the WARP XX BEST 2012 Design Contest.

“Currently, throughout BEST we have 1,500 teams and 15,000 students,” said José Montoya, public relations manager for the high school team.

The competition is centered around a robot that is capable of delivering supplies to a moon base using intergalactic space elevator technology.

The students are building a robot that can climb up a 10-foot pole and deliver various objects to a receiving receptacle at the top of the pole. It must also be able to manipulate objects, so it has an arm with a grasping mechanism, said SODA sophomore Denton Shaver, the chief technology operator.

“The game strategy this year is to score four lightweight whiffle balls, score both fuel bottles, solar panels and the summit switch at the top of the pole, which is a tie-breaker, along with the T-shirts,” Shaver said.

Competition points are earned for the project engineering notebook, the marketing presentation, the team’s exhibit, an interview evaluation, a spirit and sportsmanship evaluation as well as the robot performance points.

New Mexico BEST started in TorC in 2001, and this is the charter school’s third year in robotics competitions.

“One of the things I’ve noticed, not just about the BEST competitions, but all the robotics competitions, is every school helps everybody else,” said SODA Principal Mike Ogas. “Yeah, they get into competition with each other, but before hand they are communicating with each other, sharing ideas and helping each other. So, I think it’s a really neat program, it’s very collaborative.”

Senior Emma Clary-Gelinas is the high school robotics team chief executive officer, freshman Victoria Troyer is the chief operations officer in charge of marketing, junior Danielle Garcia is the chief document officer recording everything they work on and composing the engineering notebook,

There are several managers, including senior Keva Howe, who is the multimedia manager responsible for creating the T-shirts, the website and the commercials, sophomore Clara Sims is the research manager, junior Albert Reed is the fabrication manager designing and building the robot with Shaver, Montoya, the public relations and finance manager responsible for sponsor and other money, as well as public involvement, and junior Maria Troyer, who is in charge of the booth design.

Dean of Students Eric Brown, formerly the pre-engineering teacher and robotics coach, Creighton Edington, a math and robotics teacher and Jerry Esquivel, a digital arts teacher, realized they weren’t going to be able to keep on coaching all the competitions.

“What we focus on now is mentoring the students to become future coaches and mentors themselves,” Edington said. “That’s the only way to expand and keep on going.”

Mentoring the students in this way also strengthens their leadership skills for future engineering careers.

Last year’s high school robotics team leader, Chloe Grub, is now a coach for the middle school robotics team. She has been involved with robotics competitions all three years of the school’s involvement.

The students sought sponsorships from local businesses and gave presentations on the program.

Shaver’s uncle, Tom Livermore, offered to mentor students. He is retired from the jet propulsion laboratories at NASA.

Last year, when the students were in Anaheim for a robotics contest, he invited the school to JPL for a tour.

“This is a great activity,” Livermore said. “I can’t tell you how impressed I am by all of this.”

Part of the BEST robotics program is community involvement, and this year the SODA team offered mentoring services to the Valencia Middle School math teacher, Martha Beebe, for her students who are participating in their first robotics competition.

“We planned for them to come here, but we were also going to go up there with some of our tools for them to use,” said Danielle Garcia.

A few schools in the county have participated in the BEST competitions over the years, but students would like more of the county schools to get involved, said Montoya.

“This is something that the more people that are involved, the better it will be for everybody,” said Kenneth Griego, president of the SODA governing council.

The students are planning to attend county and municipal council meetings to promote awareness of what the students are doing.

“You know, we’re a strong sports community,” said Brown. “But I think we can even be a better academic community if we pull together.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.