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High school robotics team earns accolades

Chad Cole, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, watches as Hanger 84 team members Andrew Smith, Heraclio Vasquez, Dmitri Azih and Brayden Rook collaborate to drive Clunker the robot out of the Roswell Independent School District board meeting on Tuesday evening. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The Hanger 84 Robotics Team 7271, from Early College High School (ECHS) and University High School (UHS), have placed sixth in the regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition — with an opportunity to participate in district championships.

Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy accepts a present from the claw of Clunker the robot (the Hanger 84 Robotics team’s robot) at the Roswell Independent School District’s board meeting on Tuesday night. Also pictured, from left, are board members Mona Kirk, Ruben Sanchez and Kathleen Pittman. (Alison Penn Photo)

Around 20 Hanger 84 students and sponsors attended the Roswell Independent School District’s rescheduled board meeting on Tuesday night to share results from competitions held March 1-2 in El Paso, Texas and in Amarillo, Texas March 7-9.

Samma Ali, a Hanger 84 business team member, said Hanger 84 ranked seventh out of 27 teams in El Paso and 10th out of 30 teams in Amarillo. Ali added that, “All New Mexico teams have qualified against major Texas competitors.”

“As of last competition, we were ranked sixth out of the 192 teams in New Mexico and Texas,” Xavier Fresquez, another business team member, said. “If we stay in the top 64 teams … we’re asking the board permission to go to district championships in Austin, Texas on the first week of April — provided that we have the funds.

“And our long-term goal is that we want to inspire young kids in elementary and middle schools to the FIRST programs and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields …”

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Andrea Batista, one of the club’s sponsors and a teacher at UHS, explained to the board that if the team stays in the top 64 slots, they qualify for the next level of competition. Batista emphasized this variable and the fact that the club is in need of funding to participate in the district championships. She said the amount needed is $12,000, or $4,000 for registration fees, $4,000 for hotel stay, $3,000 for bus transportation and $1,000 for meals.

Batista said too little notice was given to the team for the board to consider approval by the meeting’s agenda deadline. She said the district championships competition would be April 3-6, Wednesday through Saturday after RISD’s spring break, which starts next week — and the team would “love and intend to go.”

Ruben Sanchez, vice president of the school board, requested to have a special board meeting to vote on whether or not the team can attend the district championships. Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy said a meeting could be held early in the week after spring break.

Robo swag

Clunker, the team’s robot, even presented a gift to McIlroy at Tuesday’s meeting. All five board members were presented with medals from the students, who were wearing their “robo swag” T-shirts, pins and lime-green suspenders. The superintendent and board members commended, congratulated and thanked the team as well as their sponsors at Tuesday’s meeting.

Students Efrain Pita Jr. and Mathew West explained that Hanger 84 participated in the Destination: Deep Space challenge presented by the Boeing Company in which 5,700 teams across the country created a functioning robot capable holding a ball and disk and placing it into a target, simulating a space mission loading cargo onto a rocket ship. West, a design and build team member, said Hanger 84’s “vision” for the robot was to create “a multipurpose claw with rotating crane arm” — and the team already has a design in mind to participate in the second level of the challenge, and go onto district championships.

Hanger 84 also earned the following awards, according to student Johana Alvarez: “creativity” for the claw design, “gracious professionalism” for helping another team, and a “finalist” award.

Future plans 

Board Secretary Dr. Kathleen Pittman asked about their grade levels and the students answered that one senior and a mix of juniors, sophomores and freshman all participated in the club. For the underclassmen, Pittman said they will have more time to hone their skills.

Pittman asked what students learned from going to competitions. Replying to her question, Fresquez said it was “a great experience” uniting high school students to “genuinely have a good time and build robots.” Fresquez also said in addition to the experience of competing that there is $80 million in scholarships available to participants.

McIlroy elaborated that FIRST also offers a K-12 curriculum and hopefully next year Hanger 84 will have the opportunity to “extend a helping hand to start some robotics programs in some of our elementary schools …”

“That’s my thing — how do I get kids to run to school?” McIlroy said. “And I want them, if they’re going to get to build robots with their heroes, which you will become, then they’re going to want to run to school. And so, I just want to congratulate you on your great, great success. What an accomplishment — and thank you so much for coming and sharing that with us and then sharing of yourselves even in the future …”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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