Last month, Kalamazoo-area robotics team Stryke Force won the robotics world championship in St. Louis, Missouri. Its members beat out more than 3,000 teams from around the world.
The robotics world championship was created by a non-profit called FIRST that encourages kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. It was founded by Dean Kamen, the guy who invented the Segway.
The theme of this year’s championship was steampunk - a type of science fiction that features steam-powered machines. The field had prop boilers, gears, and two large airships in the middle. Teams had to build a robot that could throw whiffle balls into the boiler as well as place the gears on the airship. The more balls and gears the robot collects, the more points the team gets.
Technically there’s no single winner in the championship. That’s because teams form alliances against each other. Stryke Force captained an alliance with teams out of California, New Jersey, and Canton, Michigan.
There are a few things that make Stryke Force stand out amongst competitors. First, they’re not from just one high school. The team is made up of 12 from the Kalamazoo area - with about 40 members total. Second, they have their own business team.
“They work on our budget and financing and make a lot of sponsor presentations and continually recruit those people so we have the money to be a team and a place to build - which is really a great aspect,” says Portage Northern High School senior Kyra Kothawala.
Third, Stryke Force has access to professional mentors from Stryker - which is where the team name comes from.
“It’s lucky that we have the mentors that are as dedicated as us. If we have a problem or we don’t understand something, we can go up to any mentor and they will spend hours and hours explaining to us, ‘You should really do this’ or ‘This is why we’re doing this,'" says Comstock High School senior Freddie Ouding.
"It’s great too because they’re all industry experts so you’re getting really valuable information in high school, which is incredible.”
Robotics has even helped teens figure out their future careers. Kyra Kothawala says she always knew she wanted to be in a STEM field, but her mentors helped her narrow down what she really wanted to do - mechanical or aerospace engineering.
“So after talking to them I really decided and finalized - ok I want to do engineering. And even some of the mentors encouraged me to apply to some of these top schools like University of Michigan, which is really great,” she says.
Ouding says robotics has challenged him in a way that nothing else has. He says in high school you’re often taught just one way to solve a problem.
“You get a problem and you’re going try and solve it one way and it’s not going to work. Then you have to solve it another way and that probably won’t work either," he says. "I think that gives you just a really good look at life and I really good lesson - you’re going to have to solve problems in unique ways.”