HOME TOWNSHIP — Being involved in robotics has helped Kalvin Quackenbush with his grades and direction after high school graduation.
“This program kind of led me where I wanted to go, which is electrical engineering or robotic engineering,” said Quackenbush, a Montabella High School junior and the head electrician of Mustangs Robotics.
Robotics is a “sport of the mind,” say Quackenbush and his coaches. At Montabella High School ninth through 12th grade students must have passing grades to participate in robotics.
One of the countless aspects coaches Tyler and Carrie Harkness enjoy about the robotics program is the direction that students get from participating.
“Not only do they get to do all this really cool stuff with their hands, but they also utilizing real life skills that will take them into careers they’re interested in or just general daily life,” Carrie said.
Montabella students have been able to participate in a robotics program for the last two years. During Monday’s Montabella school board meeting, the coaches and four of the seven members of Mustang Robotics presented what they do as well as let board members know they are looking to fundraise.
“(First Robotics) does grant processes trying to get rookie teams, and that’s how we’ve been fortunate at Mustang Robotics is we’ve been recipients for the first year and second year,” Carrie said. “Now that we’re going into our third year, there is no more grant money available through them, and that’s why we’re bringing it here: To try and drum up strong community support.”
Mustang Robotics competes through First Robotics, which sets the rules and regulations for competitions. The team had six weeks to build a robot that can shoot balls into a hopper, grab large gears and place them into an airship and climb a rope.
This year, the team spent $3,000 for the two competition entry fees. Coach Tyler Harkness explained some of the cost goes toward materials for the robot, but some of it also goes back to First Robotics or into scholarship funds, which are available nationally.
Besides the $3,000, Mustang Robotics spent $900 building their robot. The maximum that can be spent on the robot is $4,000.
“We took a very economical route,” Carrie noted. “We took robots and stripped every working part from them.”
Montabella’s team made it to the quarterfinals and placed 16th out of 40 teams. If they had done a bit better, the team would have been eligible to compete at a state competition.
“The unique challenge is it would have cost $4,000 for the entry fee just for that tournament,” Carrie said. “You have about a one-week turnaround to raise that money.”
Despite the costs and fundraising efforts the coaches enjoy being a part of the “sport for the mind.”
“I know I have as much fun as they do, and I’ve learned more than they did,” Tyler said.
Along with the showcase at Montabella’s school board meeting, the robotics team hopes to present their robot to the entire school district and find other ways to develop community support to keep the program at Montabella High School.