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The little robotics team that could gets a helping hand, from humans

Local contractor chips in funding for second season

The Lee High School robotics team scored a win before the season even began when it received a funding boost from a local electrical contractor recently.

Students prepared a presentation about their fledgling team, now entering its second year, and showed it to staff at Feyen Zylstra, a Grand Rapids-based electrical contractor. The team was awarded for its efforts when the company presented the students with a $3,000 check to help with this year’s competition.

“They came through for us and gave us more than we expected,” said senior Alfredo Corbera, a member of the robotics team and one of the presenters.

The team started last year with 10 members and a $13,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Education

“We’d been talking about having a robotics team for a long time so when the grant came, we made the jump,” said Assistant Principal Rendel Todd, who advises the team. “We hadn’t financially been able to do it before that.”

From creating the robots to traveling to competitions, there are significant costs associated with participating in robotics competitions. The state grant amount was halved this year to $6,500 and will be phased out next year, leaving the funding efforts entirely up to students.

Dramatic Team Growth

Student Melissa Montiel helped make the presentation, which talked about how the team grew from a group of 10 students last year to 40 this year.

“I was really nervous but it ended up being really interesting,” Melissa said. “We ended up getting to know the people there. They were really nice and gave us some really helpful criticism.”

With participation four times that of last year, the students have divided into a media team, a building team, and a programming team. Last year, students relied solely on grant money to participate and documented their work on their phones.

This year, they have enough students to raise money through fundraisers and sales pitches, and are relying on the audio-visual talents of students like Rafael Vega, who is documenting the team’s work.

“Last year, we just started out building,” said Todd. “We said, ‘Let’s get this created.’ This year, we have many more students and we’re able to divide into the groups that other teams have.”

The theme for the 2019 FIRST Robotics competition, announced on Jan. 5, is Destination: Deep Space. Students will spend long evenings building and programming the robots over the coming weeks, before competitions start at the end of February. The team plans to compete in St. Joseph on March 7th and at Grand Valley State University on March 21st.

Related story: Robots take over schools for state, world qualifiers

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Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting.

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