WHITE MOUNTAINS — Interest in robotics is climbing and White Mountain area students and schools are getting involved by creating their own robotics teams.

Contrary to (some) popular belief, the goal of building a robot together is not to destroy other robots. It’s quite the opposite — extracurricular robotics programs have become a way to inspire students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math, also referred to as STEM.

“The study of robotics inherently relates to all facets of STEM, and when students learn through exploration, it increases motivation and desire to succeed,” according to the VEX Robotics website.

VEX, like FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), which some White Mountain schools are using, is another popular brand of robotics kit for use by schools and student clubs.

Watching students of all ages get excited about working together to build something with moving parts can be rewarding for teachers, coaches, parents and volunteers. Such programs are also opening up college scholarship opportunities for students.

Cougar Pride Robotics

The Cougar Pride Robotics, (a.k.a. CPR) team consists of 18-20 students from Show Low High School. Only in their second year, they are exceptionally well-organized and already have one state-level competition under their robot’s belt.

Their robots have names, by the way. Their first robot was designed, programmed and built during the 2017-18 school year. It’s name was “Heart Attack.” The 2018-19 school year’s robot is named “Cardiac Arrest.”

The CPR team is more than ready for the Arizona & New Mexico FIRST Tech Challenge Championship on February 22-23 at Northern Arizona University.

“Matt Jones is the CPR team president,” explains Victoria Pino, CPR vice president of media. “Jace Owens is our vice president of engineering and Erik Scarlett is the vice president of programming,” she adds during a tour with the Independent last Tuesday.

The CPR team spends a substantial amount of their free time during the week in the robotics lab. “We’re here on Tuesdays and Thursdays from about 3:15 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” Pino said.

“When we come into the club, we choose the area that we want to focus on,” explains Kyler Owens. “It could be engineering, programming, machining, design or media and fundraising, for example.”

“We have to work together,” team President Matt Jones said. “One of the main details of focus for our team is using custom-build pieces for our robot; they are actually engineered by our team.”

“Before we start building our robot, we decide on a robot design together,” said Jace Owens whose speciality is 3D design in the Solid works program. “The software helps us calculate our design dimensions, materials and weight.”

Community outreach is just as critical to the team’s success. Getting the word out about what materials and tools are needed can help a team tremendously.

“The Show Low Youth Foundation bought the lathe and the milling machine for us,” explains Cheyenne McKinley. “We have to go through safety certification before using the machine but we are learning skills that are used in the real workforce right now,” she adds.

“The satisfaction comes we see the robot we’ve built together working in the competition,” says team Treasurer Jordan Heikens. “It motivates us to keep going and improve on our design.”

More robotics teams

There are several robotics teams organized by students, school staff, parents and volunteers throughout Navajo and Apache County schools.

Elksplosion is a FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team formed in Springerville over four years ago and has competed in several tournaments.

The White Mountain Robotics Juggerbots are a community team started by two homeschool moms. “Our team includes kids from Lakeside to Holbrook and we are based in Snowflake,” says mentor and coach Jennifer Brimhall. “We have also qualified to go to State.”

They also use FIRST Tech Challenge and have also hosted robotics competitions at the Blue Ridge School Fab Lab.

As the Independent covers school districts throughout the White Mountains, other robotics teams will be contacted for information and coverage.

Reach the reporter at lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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