DESHLER, NE – Six students from Deshler have spent more than six months perfecting a homemade robot.
This small, but diligent group are the Electrogator Robotics team – a group assembled and sponsored by Reinke Manufacturing.
The team is coached and mentored by Stan Reinke and Hal Hockersmith.
“Reinke is involved with a lot of robotic-type applications,” Hockersmith said. “We do a lot of programming and mechanical engineering. So, preparing kids to get into that kind of field would actually be perfect for the company to try and foster some talent in a small-town environment.”
The six-member team includes senior Luke Reinke, junior Caleb Jalas (captain), freshmen Chloe Mosier (captain), Mira Eschliman (captain), Landon Schoneweis and eighth grader Cameron Czekai.
Since early September, this team has worked long hours to build a robot that unhooks itself from a lunar-type module, retrieves minerals and hooks itself back to the module. This all must be done in 2.5 minutes.
“Each season has its own set of unique challenges,” team member Chloe Mosier said. “We essentially, at the beginning of the season, get a video explaining what the new rules are, what the new challenges are and we build a robot around that.”
The Electrogator Robotics team won the “Winning Alliance” title in the Nebraska FIRST Tech Challenge Championship on Feb. 9th in Columbus. A 16-team, statewide competition called “Rover Ruckus.”
According to a press release from Reinke, “The squad also won the tournament Connect Award, presented to the team that the judges feel most connected with their local Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) community. The judges noted that the Electrogators had done the best job of all the teams by partnering with Reinke to seek out professionals who could help guide them in the design of their robot.”
At competition, teams are judged on presentation, their notebook arena competition and professionalism.
“The judges will come around and look at your individual tables and setups and judge you on gracious professionalism,” team captain Caleb Jalas said, “which is (First Tech Challenge’s) main focus about being respectful and treating others the way you’d want to be treated.”
The team has also competed in scrimmages, or “skirmishes,” in Humphrey in November and in Deshler in January. Deshler Public Schools will host another “skirmish” in early April before the team heads off to nationals.
A “skirmish” is not a competition, but rather a scrimmage in which the team will put their robots to the test against other robots. Basically, a glorified practice.
The Electrogator Robotics team will now compete with about 160 other teams nationwide in the 2019 First Tech Championship in Detroit, April 24-27.
Caffeinated Robotics from Humphrey and Robobears from Blair in Nebraska also qualified for the nationwide competition.
“It’s been really exciting,” Hockersmith said. “When we first started talking about at the beginning of the year, we had seen some videos. Stan and Luke (Reinke) studied some designs, and we said ‘I think we have a design that can really make it.’
So, we said, ‘Alright. If we’re going to make it, we’re going to have to put the work in.’ And they did, and we’re excited to be moving on.”
FIRST is a non-profit devoted to helping youth discover a passion for science, engineering, technology, and math. The annual programs culminate in robotics competitions where teams win recognition, develop life skills and discover a previously unforeseen career path.
At the very least, it’s become an extra, previously unknown extracurricular activity for area students.
“I had no sports to do since I wasn’t going out for basketball this year,” team member Landon Schoneweis said. “So, I decided ‘robotics. That sounds good.’ Then, I signed up, didn’t know what I was getting myself into and now I’m here.”
The team is open to all students in the area, ages 12-18. Or, 8th-12th grade. The youngest team member, eighth grader Cameron Czekai, has found an extracurricular activity with the robotics team that helps him explore his passions.
“I like building,” he said, “and making stuff. So, I thought this would be cool to do. I don’t do sports, so I mean, this is an extra thing I can do in the evenings.”
Most of the Reinke team is in their second year of competition and about half of them are considering mechanical engineering or programming as a college major.
Hockersmith says the long-term goal with the Robotics team is to prepare youth for future careers in the local area.
“One of the principal tenants of FIRST, and a category they can be judged on is community outreach and recruitment,” he explained. “So, we’re probably going to be encouraging the kids very, very diligently to go out and try to recruit more team members.”
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