For nine years, Gross Catholic High School has integrated robotics into its curriculum and after-school activities.
With one Gross team having placed 46th in the world in skills, the Gross VEX Robotics program has grown significantly over the past few years.
Steve Hamersky, the adviser for robotics, said the VEX Robotics competitions have become more competitive in Nebraska.
The competitions now, as opposed to when the VEX Robotics program started 11 years ago, are based on winning or placing high in the state and regional tournaments to move to the world tournament in Louisville, Ky. The first few years, if teams won a tournament, they qualified for the world tournament.
“That’s made it a lot more competitive now than it used to be,” Hamersky said.
Hamersky said to prepare for the competitions throughout the school year, his students spend four to five hours a day working on and designing their robots.
This year, the 3141 team has been a tournament finalist at Thomas Jefferson VEX Tournament, won the Judges Award at Benson High School’s tournament and was the champion at North High School and Elkhorn High School.
Hamersky said each April at the world championship the next game is announced so students can begin thinking of what their next robot will be.
The students work for four to five hours every night for two to three weeks building the robots, Hamersky said. The rest of the time is dedicated on troubleshooting and fine-tuning the robots.
Andrew Jesus, a sophomore robotics student, said he likes Gross’s robotics program because of the flexibility.
“It’s very open — you can go in there and do what you want on your own time,” he said. “I’ve been in there upwards of eight hours a day.”
At Gross’s VEX Robotics tournament Saturday, team 3141S was the tournament champion and the Robot Skills champions.
At the VEX Robotics tournaments, the four-person teams are split in half to compete against each other. The separated teams are paired with two members from another school to form an alliance.
Hamersky said this aspect of the competition allows the students to learn to work with other robots and students to see what they’ve been doing with their own bots.
“Teams are really communicating a lot more and scouting each other and talking more before the tournaments,” he said. “The teams that can best integrate with other teams will be the ones selected for alliances.”
Jesus, who’s on the 3141 team, said the best part of the alliances is meeting new people from different schools.
“Going into freshman year, I met a lot of people,” he said. “Now I know teams from California, China — all over the world.”
Throughout the last few years, Hamersky has had four high school teams and one middle school team, the latter ranked No. 7 in the world in skills.
“We’ve had a strong program throughout the years,” he said. “I have seen a lot more interest in robotics and technology over the years.”
Hamersky said with how well-seasoned Gross is at robotics, the teams have an advantage to take their knowledge and create better robots for the next year’s competitions.
“Doing the initial build of the robot is relatively easy and most students can do that, but what separates the top teams from the middle teams, is those teams that can continue to work on the robot and continue to see where it has problems and then solving those little problems in a continuing way,” he said.
Gross’s robotics has grown significantly and more competitively after taking a trip to Beijing, China, two years ago. The group partnered with a Chinese team and placed second at the competition.
“The trip to China made a big difference,” Hamersky said.
Jesus said the teams treat robotics as more than an activity.
“We look at it as a sport, and if you want to get better at a sport, you have to practice,” he said. “We’re always striving to get better.”
Hamersky said he hopes Gross and VEX Robotics continues to promote an attitude of learning and competition in the future.
“I’d like to see the students that are coming up to learn as much as they can about robotics but also learn as much as they can about the social aspects of engineering,” he said.
Read the article on the Bellevue Leader website.
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