GTPulse: Benzie Central High School Robotics Team Makes STEM Fun

Women in STEM is a rising phenomenon that is spanning to get girls involved early. Programs like Kode With Klossy have introduced girls to the world of software programming and teaches them a valuable skill foundation that could translate into a future career in coding. As technology advances, jobs in STEM will only become more in-demand and as it stands roughly only a quarter of people working in STEM are women. Benzie Central Middle School teacher Marc Alderman is encouraging more kids to get involved with STEM with his after school High School Husky Robotics VRC (VEX Robotics Competition) Team.

The robotics team consists of four Benzie Central High School freshman students, Parker Miller, Jessica Decker, Emily Fouchey and Ella Gaylord. Although the team encourages girls to join, anybody is allowed and Parker is the first male member of the team. The students were introduced to robotics when Marc began teaching.

“Last year was my first full year as a teacher, prior to that I did a half year position, came in halfway through the school year and at the end of that year the principal Mr. Clasen said, ‘what do you think about starting a 7th grade robotics class?’ So, last year I started a 7th grade robotics class and an after school competition team,” Marc said.

Jessica, Emily and Ella joined the after school team and Marc transitioned the team from an after school middle school team, to an after school high school team so the girls could continue to compete and learn about robotics.

The team is working on a robot for an upcoming Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools VEX robotics competition. VEX is the type of platform that the team competes in, and it’s not like battle bots. There are no burly robots competing in a fight to the death style boxing match, rather, the robots are tasked with being able to perform different commands. This year the robot will have to lift and move a cube. The robot is placed on a 12 by 12 playing field and will work to score points by moving the cube into different requested areas of the playing field. Each member of the team helps out with a different aspect of getting the robot into prize fighting shape. Emily and Ella focus on programming the robot, Jessica and Parker work on building the robot.

“It’s taken like, four weeks to build so far,” Ella said.

“We need probably three or four more days to perfect it,” Parker said.

Although the team all works on different parts of creating the robot, they all participate in driving it at the competition. The first part of VEX robotics competitions consist of the robot driving itself autonomously, but the second part requires team members to drive the robot, which is done with a handheld controller.

“Our robot got pinned in a corner last year by another one,” Emily said. “It wasn’t on purpose, it was elementary school kids that didn’t know, but out robot and theirs got stuck on each other and couldn’t move.”

The four freshmen all joined the team for different reasons.

“Mr. Alderman sent out a paper all throughout school and everyone was talking about it and all the teachers were saying that we could do robotics and it would be great. I was like, ‘man, that is not my thing.’ My math teacher told me to just try it and I actually have come to really like it,” Emily said.

Emily loves being apart of the team, but doesn’t have an interest in pursuing a career in STEM. Jessica and Ella both have an interest in potentially pursuing something STEM in a career. 

“I have a huge Lego collection at my house, and I love building. I’d also taken classes before where I built robots,” Jessica said.

Jessica is considering either a career as an aerospace engineer or a robotics engineer.

Ella had interest in programing and joined to academically better herself and pickup problem solving skills. She’s been pleasantly surprised with how fun being on the team has been for her. Parker was looking for an after school activity and had always had an interest in building and programming, which led him to join the team. 

Whether they plan on pursuing a STEM career path or not, the teammates are developing problem solving, speaking and team skills that will apply to any career field they choose.

While Parker was talking about why he joined the robotics team he mentioned the word tribe, which I thought was in reference to the sense of community that the team feels towards each other, what he was actually referring to was his Native American roots and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. I felt embarrassed to have misinterpreted what Parker meant, but the misinterpretation was still relevant.

“We actually are kind of like a little family since the group is so small,” Ella said.

“Last Wednesday we were talking about how we are the founding members of the Husky High School Robotics Club. One day we’ll be able to say that we were the first ones,” Parker said.

The team is sponsored by Team Elmer’s, Rhode’s Engineering and has just been awarded the Girl Powered Grant from the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation. The Benzie High School Husky Robotics VRC Team may be small but they are mighty.

Categories: GTPulse