For Eagle Valley Middle School’s First LEGO League Robotics competitors, the force is with them.
After winning the Northern Nevada LEGO League competition at the University of Nevada, Reno on Sunday, team Jedi Engineers will be competing in a world tournament with their LEGO robotics in Houston, Texas, April 18-23.
The team held a celebration after school Thursday.
“It’s amazing that such a small town and community is going to be recognized internationally,” said Kai Miller of the team. “As a town, we don’t get recognized much but our team proves how much a group from a small town can do.”
The team is associated with the For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) program, and is the first team in Carson City to compete in world championships. In Houston, it will compete against at least 108 teams, internationally, on its level. Overall, there will be 700 international teams at the tournament, including high school and college students.
Coached by STEM Lab facilitator, Lisa Stocke-Koop — along with assistant coaches and mentors, Eric Fancher and Jason Koop — the Jedi Engineers consist of six students in 7th and 8th grade.
The competition is broken up into categories that involve building and programming a Lego robot to accomplish specific tasks in the arena. Teams are also assigned problem-solving challenges to research and are expected to provide innovative solutions.
Once completed, members present their results with judges and experts.
“It’s a two-way street,” Stocke-Koop said. “They work together and support each other with programming. They’re more about competing with themselves to better the score.”
It’s been a long, yet gratifying road for the Jedi Engineers; when they participated in the Qualifier Tournament in December, their robot glitched and failed. However, despite their disappointment, they were the only team to help clean up the venue after the event out of the 25 teams that competed.
Jedi Engineers won second place for the Core Values category and members were put on an alternate list for the championship, as a result of their high marks in other categories and their civility throughout the season.
“It’s such a spectacular feeling as a team,” said Jedi Engineer Nevan McIlwee. “We turned our failures into successes, and achieved our challenges.”
Members improved the design and programming of their robot over winter break. They even started a blog about their journey.
With practice and teamwork, they triumphed in the Northern Nevada competition.
During their celebration Thursday, the team also received an invitation to the international championships in Bath, England, U.K. this summer.
“It feels great to have our work pay off,” said Jedi Engineer Ryan Cooley. “We started out not being able to qualify and now we’re being recognized from the other side of the world.”
But for now, the main mission is to fundraise enough money to get to Houston. They’re looking to raise $17,000 through GoFund Me.
Although this may seem like a playful match to some, many students take the competition seriously. The purpose of FIRST is to inspire K-12 students with engineering and computer technology through entertaining robotic battles such as LEGO. With the club’s education in programming, it helps students prepare for 21st century skills for future college courses and careers, and problem solving, said EVMS Principal Lee Conley.
“They are future engineers and coders,” he said. “They may invent things we don’t know about yet. The way they collaborate as a team is professional. Even though they’ve had disagreements, their attitude was about working together.”
“I’m just so proud of them,” Stocke-Koop said. “They make me cry — their accomplishments make me happy.”
The Jedi Engineers are EVMS students Emmanuel Alvarez, Ryan Cooley, Bryar Fancher, Cash Farnworth, Nevan McIlwee, and Kai Miller.
To donate to the team, visit gofundme.com/lego-team-to-world-championship. The public also can support the team at the EVMS STEM Night at 5:30 p.m. March 2.