Belding High School’s robotics team is about to compete on a national stage, but the skills they gained to get them there may carry them far beyond a high school competition.
Through hours of hard work — most of them put in after school hours — five Belding students on two teams have earned the opportunity to compete in the U.S. National VEX Robotics Championship at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Omaha, Neb.
Invitations were received by both teams to attend the competition after competing successfully in tournaments in Webberville and Grandville. A total of 80 teams stretching from Hawaii to New York will be in attendance at the national competition.
It’s opportunities like this that robotics coach and Belding High School teacher Thomas Daller said will change his students’ lives for the better.
“Student efforts and accomplishments should be recognized locally as well as nationally,” he said. “This experience will expose our students to various educational, cultural, and design techniques. Problem solving, networking and life skills will be utilized throughout the entire trip. I want my students to experience the feeling of being rewarded for a job well done.”
Throughout his years of teaching, Daller said coaching the robotics team has been just as rewarding as any other aspect of his career.
“I’ve taught for 21 years,” Daller said. “I’ve been a woodshop teacher, a drafting teacher, a CAD instructor and a baseball coach. The change in education in the last 20 years has been amazing. This robotics program, what it does for the kids, allowing them to design, create, build and explore in a controlled environment, it gives them the confidence to succeed in robotics and in life.”
According to his students, the short term goal is simply “to win,” but robotics team member and high school sophomore Tre Robinson said the skills he’s learned through the robotics program will help him in other aspects of his life.
“This is something I’ve chosen to do because it’s a very hands on experience and I love to build things,” Robinson said. “Robotics is something that involves engineering and can help me later on in my life.”
With a goal to enlist in either the Marines or Air Force, Robinson believes the skills he’s learning now will benefit him greatly when “trying to keep the country safe.”
“If I were to work for the Marines using skills learned here, they could help pay for college and help me get a job,” he said. “Being on this team has actually had a lot of influence on me.”
According to Daller, the two teams will compete against and partner with random teams from across the county, with a goal to outscore opposing teams using the robots they have built.
“I think I spend more time for this than I do coaching an entire baseball season,” Daller said. “(The kids) just won’t leave. They had the day off from school a few days ago, a day to do whatever they wanted with, and one of them came in at 9 a.m. and didn’t leave until seven o’clock at night. They want to win this more than anything.”
According to Daller, the competition will provide some of his students with an opportunity they may never have had without the robotics team.
“There are three of the five students on the team who have never left the state of Michigan,” he said. “If you look at the picture of our team photo of where we won in Webberville a few months ago, it was a culture shock to these guys. I’ve lived in Belding my whole life, I’ve been here forever and I know the caliber of kids that we’ve got. Unfortunately there are some that just don’t have the opportunities to do these types of things.”
Team member and sophomore Garrett Spencer said programming his team’s robot is something he greatly enjoys, but knows the work he’s putting in now will benefit him down the road.
“I’m planning on going into nanotechnology after high school,” he said. “There’s not much on it right now, but being able to program and design, that’s going to be a lot of help to me. With this robot, I handle the programming and I tell it what motors to run and how long they run. It’s actually pretty simple to me, you just tell it exactly what you want it to do, though I’m still learning quite a bit.”
For team member and senior Andrew Wucher, the chance to visit and talk with other teams is something he says he will never forget.
“The skills that I’ve learned here, I’ve learned to talk with other teams,” he said. “You have to have communication skills. You have to have a cool head. I do a little bit of programming, a little bit of building and I clean everything up. Because I have all of these attributes, it will help me in college and even when I start working. If I go into a field that is very crowded and competitive, it shouldn’t be that bad for me. We had eight matches at a competition at Michigan State University, which meant there were eight different teams I had to communicate and work with.”
According to Daller, the VEX Robotics Competition is the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics program globally with more than 3,500 teams from 20 countries playing in over 250 tournaments worldwide.
“With this program, you’re not just teaching these kids about computer software, you’re teaching them problem solving,” he said. “They gain knowledge from this. In two weeks they’ve designed four robots, literally from the ground up and all through trial and error. It gives them confidence and that is what education should be about.”