Photos courtesy of FIRST Washington
Ballard High School Vikings were the World Championship Winner, Einstein Field Houston the 2016-2017 FIRST Robotics Competition where they met with teams from Canada, China, Israel, Mexico, and Turkey.

Ballard High School robotics teams secure honors at international competition

The Ballard High School Viking Robotics team made school history last month by taking top honors at the FIRST Robotics world championship competition in Houston, Texas, marking the first time the school or any team from the Pacific Northwest secured a trophy.

The competition was held on April 20 -22 and 400 teams were invited from all over the world, which included Canada, China, Israel, Mexico, and Turkey.

The competition is known as “Varsity Sport of the Mind™,” for students grade nine through 12. During a six-week period teams raise funds and engineer a robot to performs a series of tasks; Teams have limited resources and time to organize their own “brand” of robot with the capability to perform the competition tasks.

FIRST Washington reported that the average cost for a robotics team is $24,000 and team sizes are between 15-150 with not limit to member size.

In a main competition of the event robots compete in a game much like basketball or soccer while students operate them remotely.

Mentors and real-world professionals from company’s like Microsoft volunteer their time, training and guidance to help teams along as they navigate through scenarios designed to simulate real world applications.

“There is absolutely no question being in a robotics club and getting students involved for one, two, three or four years of their high school gets them interested in science technology, engineering and math,” said Microsoft mentor Dan Rosenstein at a previous competition.

During January and February the 27-student team organized and designed their brand/robot to compete at Mount Vernon High School and Glacier Peak High School, eventually moving on to the PNW District Championship at Eastern Washington University last April. They then moved on to Houston where they were awarded World Championship trophy.

“These past four years on Viking Robotics have taught me so much, from how to wire a robot, to working on a team, to leadership skills,” said student Cecilia Kalthoff. “Getting to compete at the World Championship seemed like the best way to cap off my senior year, but I didn't imagine it could get more amazing. Winning was just so unbelievable! This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”

FIRST Washington, a nonprofit, has offered free mentor-based after school educational programs since 2011. The programs are designed to hone life skills like teamwork and leadership through educational competitions. According to FIRST Washington there are currently 11,000 students ages six to 18 participating in their programs across the state with over 4,500 mentors. With the addition of FIRST Robotics Competition, the organization offers three other competetions, which includes FIRST LEGO League Jr., FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge.

“FIRST Washington strives to alleviate the growing problem of a shortage of skilled professionals in STEM and the need for an innovative workforce by using strategies that promote STEM interest, knowledge, and learning and that inspire students to pursue post-secondary education/training in STEM,” the non-profits states.

“We are so proud of Viking Robotics for making history as the first Pacific Northwest team to win the world championship,” said Erin McCallum, president of FIRST Washington. “It was truly a pleasure to see what this group of talented students was able to achieve this year.”

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