VESTABURG — There were a lot of firsts happening for Vestaburg Community School last weekend.
The high school’s first robotics team competed in their first competition — and won — during a tournament in Shepherd on April 8. The competition is part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics.
This weekend, the team will compete in the state finals tournament at Saginaw Valley State University.
Amanda Slezak, coach for team 6582, the Vestabots, said she is excited for and proud of the team.
In addition to advancing to the state finals competition, the team won the Gracious Professionalism award, which recognizes teamwork, a positive attitude and communication.
Slezak was surprised the team, which is comprised of 15 students, made it to the state finals competition, not because she thought they couldn’t do it, but they are a rookie team — now one of nine rookie teams going to the state competition.
“I never expected to make it there as a rookie team. I was excited our robot moved,” Slezak said.
The Michigan Department of Education awarded Vestaburg $9,000 in grant funding to put together the team and help cover the costs of materials to build their robot. The team got started in January and has been working since to establish themselves.
“(We started the team) to give our kids the opportunity to experience more science and engineering that we can’t always provide at our school,” Slezak said. “This gave them an opportunity to do that, and in the real world.”
Not only does the robotics team expose students to science and engineering in new, hands-on ways but it builds on other skills like teamwork and perseverance in the face of adversity.
“When we encounter a problem, they never hang their heads. They say, ‘How do we fix it?’ and then they solve the problem and our robot is better,” Slezak said. “It’s just not skills you can get in the classroom.”
Slezak said some of the students involved are less interested in the science of robotics and more interested in design or other aspects of the competition.
“It takes a lot of different types to make the team work,” she said. “You can’t just have the engineers. You also need to have communication people and we have somebody step up to be the safety captain. There’s lots of different roles to play on the team.”
The grant the district obtained will continue on in future years, but will not be as sizable as the first year grant. Slezak said the first year grant includes funds to get the program off the ground and develop a business plan. The hope is the team will work with local businesses to secure sponsorships and funding.
Aggressive Tooling Inc. of Greenville and Edmore Electric Inc. are two local businesses that stepped up to sponsor the team.
Slezak said she’s looking forward to the future of the team and continued support from the community and the school district.
“We are very proud of these young men and women and their accomplishments,” said Vestaburg Community Schools Superintendent Brandon Hubbard.