Area students strategize for ROV event

News Photo by Tyler Winowiecki Conner McDonald explains his team’s concept to the rest of the robotics students during Sunday’s brainstorming session. McDonald and the other students worked with area engineers to brainstorm ideas for the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition.

ALPENA — Students from area schools were busy brainstorming ideas Sunday for the FIRST Robotics Competition which kicked off this weekend.

This year’s competition theme is FIRST Steamworks which will make the students perform several tasks where sucessfully completing them will earn them points for the competition. The students will have six weeks to finalize their designs before the regional competition.

Students from Alpena, Alcona and Posen schools worked alongside nearly 20 engineers from area business to strategize and brainstorm ideas for their robots. Alpena High School teacher Melissa Doubek said the goal is to hear as many ideas as possible.

“The goal is to support the brainstorming process for these students,” she said. “All the kids’ ideas are heard and add valuable to the process. Nothing is turned down.”

Doubek has been working with the robotics team for several years now and has seen her students perform exceedingly well. This includes multiple teams making it to the State Regional Competition and even the World Competition in St. Louis.

A commitment to teamwork was cited by Doubek as a key component to their success.

“The reason why they’re so successful is the dynamics and the focus on teamwork,” she said. “They value everyone’s roles and ideas.”

There is also another aspect to the robotics challenge which helps draw in many of the engineers, local economics. Employment Services Inc.’s General Manager Jeff Diamond said the engineers, which collectively have over 380 years of mentoring experience , were there to seek out future engineers.

“We have engineers here from several different companies and they’re all looking for qualified engineers,” he said. “This works best when the mentors merely observe the students and let them do the designing.”

Doubek and Diamond said the mentors just observe the students and let them follow their ideas through conception, even if the mentor knows the idea may not work. This is because the students can re-evaluate their designs — which Doubek said is where the true learning occurs.

Funding for the robotics program came not only from the school but through a Youth and Recreation grant, ESI funding and the Northeast Michigan Community Foundation grants.

The four teams will have six weeks to design, build, configure, test and practice their robots before being stored for the competition. This year’s qualifying event will be held in Gaylord starting March 16.

Tyler Winowiecki can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Tyler on Twitter tw_alpenanews. Read his blog, Just a Thought … at