Four Kenowa Hills students surrounded a box of wires, wheels and pulleys they called Judy, making last-minute adjustments. They had spent six weeks putting her together, after school and on weekends. Now was the time to send her out to battle, along with 39 other robots made by students from throughout West Michigan.
“We’re feeling really confident about this match,” said junior Boone Shangle, despite this being the first competition for the Feyen Zylstra FIRST Robotics team, also known as the Titanium Dragons.
The FIRST Robotics Competition district finals at East Kentwood High School brought forth mechanical marvels to a medieval-style arena, where they bruised over barriers and launched balls into castle towers. Call it STEM on steroids, putting students’ engineering and strategy skills to the test over two days of high-energy contests.
In events at Kentwood and Grand Valley State University, area students vied to qualify for state finals at the DeltaPlex Arena this weekend. Michigan’s nearly 400 teams, most in the U.S., included East Grand Rapids, East Kentwood, Forest Hills, Grand Rapids, Grandville, Lowell and Wyoming.
Kenowa Hills’ eight-student team, overseen by teacher Mike Johnson and mentored by Paul, Matthew and AnnMarie Dressel, pretty much built Judy from scratch. Putting in about 1,000 hours among them, they learned a lot about software, hardware and teamwork.
“Before this, I wouldn’t know how to wire this up to this that controls this motor,” said eighth-grader Nathan Ryan. His chief enjoyment: “building something and having it work, and knowing it’s worth hard work that you put into that. That’s really awesome.”