Mount Vernon High School’s FIRST Tech Challenge team, made up of members of the MVHS FIRST Robotics Club, had high hopes for competition. (FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.)

The team competed in qualifying rounds at the FIRST Tech Challenge over the weekend of Dec. 15 at King’s High School in Shoreline. Although they didn’t advance to the division championship round, club mentor Mike Criner said they all had a great time and learned a lot.

After hearing from several club members, it’s clear some students are into robotics for much more than winning competitions.

“When I joined robotics this year, I didn’t really know what to expect,” said MVHS freshman Danny Sullivan. “The first day I came to an after-school meeting, I didn’t know anyone. Within 20 minutes I was disassembling conveyor belts and shortening lengths of chain. I already felt like I belonged. So far, robotics has been a life-altering experience for me.”

Sullivan, along with freshmen Matthew Repplier and Juan Macedo and senior Dix Felker, joined last year’s Robotics Challenge team members sophomore Drew Stevens and junior Wesley Grett to form this year’s Tech Challenge team.

“I have had a lot of fun building and hanging out with people with similar interests to me,” said Repplier. “I expected a group of really smart guys making a robot together, and that is more or less what it is.”

Team mentor Michael Criner said the team’s assignment for this year’s challenge was to design and build a robot, which they named DogBot, that could hang 4.5-inch plastic rings on a peg board made of one-inch PVC pipe. They traveled to Central Washington University on Nov. 30 for the first two rounds of regional qualifiers, but their design did not work as planned, causing the team to spend most of their time redesigning and rebuilding DogBot. They ultimately finished fifth and did not qualify for the championship round.

Criner said his team didn’t perform as well as they had hoped, but they all had a great time and learned a lot.

“Robotics for me was a good experience; a new way to look at reality,” said Macedo. “… I think Robotics met my expectations. It was just like I thought it would be when they talked about it – not like some other clubs where they say you will have a ton of fun in a video, and you don’t actually do any of the things in the video. I’ve learned that things don’t just come to be. There is a lot of work to be done by many engineers everywhere and they are necessary for modern life.”

Putting their 2012 season behind them, the MVHS FIRST Robotics Challenge team began the 2013 season Saturday, Jan. 5, with a new Robotics Challenge. The team has six weeks to build a robot to enter in the regional qualifying rounds this March. Criner said any interested newcomers are welcome to join. The group doesn’t just build robots – they also need people to build websites, videos, costumes and more.

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