Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday, April 6, 2023. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Kingsland students: Proud coders, cube-setters, platformers and peg-placers.
“We had a robot that could place cones and cubes on any level of the platforms and pegs. Our robot had to place cubes and cones onto platforms. Cones could also be placed onto pegs, and we had to balance on a ‘charging pad’ similar to a teeter-totter, and we earned points for these things,” shared the Kingsland FIRST Robotics TeKnights robotics team in a collective written statement—along with advisor Paul Eckheart—following their participation in the North Star Robotics Competition at La Crosse, Wisconsin from March 23 to March 26, pitting their long-armed robot against those of 39 other teams.
The 2023 team included the talents of juniors William Dean, Noah House, Alex Hayden, senior Abi Biermann, freshman Haleigh Hyde and Catie Emig, with technical assistance from mentors Jerry Donney, Elia Hurst and Stuart Weist. The team was grateful for the sponsorship assistance of several local businesses, including Ace Hardware, Valley Lanes, Penz Automotive, Home Federal, Southland Auto, Valley Farm and Home, State Farm, BTR Construction and Casey’s.
Students on the team started working to assemble the robotics kit in mid-January, and they encountered some obstacles as they attempted to tinker and rework their creation into functionality. “We had to relearn how to code, which set us back quite a bit, but once we got the hang of it, though, we began to have issues with the building of the arm that reached out for the cones. We placed 37 out of 39 teams. Our wiring essentially burnt out during mid-competition, but we were able to fix it and go back onto the field. We were incredibly good at balancing on the charging pad and placing cubes on the levels.”
Eckheart appreciates getting to advise the robotics team because he likes “seeing the collaboration of the students and how well they work under pressure” while dealing with “the challenges of fixing issues with the robot in a given time and sometimes without the proper parts.” The students related that they were particularly impressed by sportsmanship and teamwork being shown throughout the North Star robotics tournament, with one student remarking that “robotics is incredibly fun, and though we have stress during the season, once you go to the competition, it makes it all seem worth it.”
Furthermore, students enjoy meeting “so many amazing and kind people” and are given unique opportunities because of the chance to be part of the FIRST Robotics, and team members cited that they feel that it is impactful “social-wise, careers, everything” and that “the community of FIRST Robotics is one of a kind.” The team is very small, but that is an advantage to the students who participate because they know one another well and can use individual skills to benefit the team as the robot is built, as another student commented that “many of us use everything that we have learned in real life and plan to have careers relating to robotics.”
Eckheart and the current TeKnights issued an invitation to interested Kingsland students to consider robotics team membership if the opportunity presents itself. “We are looking for members. If you are interested in learning leadership skills, coding, building and much more, you are welcome to join the TeKnights.”
The advisor’s March 27 post on the Kingsland Facebook page summed up his admiration for the students he coached. “I couldn’t have been more proud of our Robotics TeKnights team this past weekend. They were an amazing group of kids both on and off the competition! I am so proud of the way they represented Kingsland at the Minnesota North Star Regional Competition. What a great group of kids who deserve more than their team gets.”
Courtesy of the Mower County Independent, 135 E Main St. LeRoy, MN 55951, (507)-324-5325