Successful year for AHS FIRST Robotics

ALPENA — While the official season may have come to a close, Alpena High School’s FIRST Robotics students will continue to have an impact on the local economy, engage in community outreach and hone their skills for next season.

Last week students from Team 5505 traveled to St. Louis for the world championships where the team placed 21st in its division. Teacher/coach Melissa Doubek said being aware of the needs for certain repairs and proactively seeking other issues let the team compete to the best of its ability.

“I thought this was by far our best performance,” she said. “We were hovering around the 12th place for qualifications. We had some very bad alliances and a five point penalty which ultimately put us out of the playoffs. But they represented Alpena with a lot of pride and I am very proud of that.”

With the season over, Team 5505 and Team 5230 will turn a page and begin their community outreach and hope to train during the summer with a robot. But Doubek said the skills and leadership the students acquired through FIRST Robotics will pay dividends here in the community.

“The best and brightest students need to recognize we have industry and jobs here,” she said. “We want to build local talent and employ our kids in internships to work with the engineers. It’s not just about a high school class, this is a community working together to educate and build our economy.”

Over the course of the season the program had eight active mentors coming in to work with the students and help make their visions into reality. Brian VanWormer, who works at Employment Services Inc., said the FIRST Robotics program, along with Project Lead The Way, provides students with the tools and experiences needed in the local economy.

“I would say that the success that (Alpena High School) and other areas like Posen and Alcona have is because the experience the students get from participating in those programs are phenomenal,” he said. “They have been a huge success in the community because they are connecting the students and businesses through real world applications.”

The payoff from the program could be seen through one of Doubek’s students. Aaron Diamond received an internship through the program and then was awarded a substantial scholarship to attend Kettering University for its engineering program, Doubek said.

Moreover, because through Kettering’s engineering program Diamond will need to complete an internship in the process. Doubek said this would not be a problem as he already has secured one in Alpena.

Bryant Kerrigan, who has mentored the teams for four years, said he has seen former FIRST Robotics students intern at Pro Cal Inc. and succeed because of skills gained through the program.

“We’ve had a couple previous FIRST Robotics students intern with us,” he said. “Them having that background working on the team and working towards the common goals and having the experience to build puts them a couple steps ahead of someone who maybe is a gifted student but doesn’t have the FIRST Robotics experience in that field.”

Kerrigan said it was both impressive and inspiring to watch the students work and said the skills gained during the season will stick with them for the rest of their lives. He said this includes work ethic, teamwork and the fostering creativity during the design and building phase.

Over the course of the season Alpena’s teams have compiled several first place finishes including the Gaylord district championship and the Traverse City district championship — making them one of only three teams in the state to win two district championships, Doubek said.

During the season Team 5505 was awarded the Team Spirit Award for its enthusiasm and spirit and also was congratulated for its promotion of girls in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields at the state competition.

Doubek said the team should be able to build upon the previous years’ success next season, especially with only having a few seniors graduating from this year’s team.

“We hope to keep growing, but I’ve been excited with how we have been doing over the last couple of years,” she said.

Tyler Winowiecki can be reached via email at twinowiecki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Tyler on Twitter tw_alpenanews.