Robotics Program Produces Champions

Marissa Harrison works on a robot.

A robotics program sponsored by MCCC has created a pair of champions.

The VEX Robotics club gives high school and elementary students a chance to work together on a team to design a robot with a specific function.

Local competitions are held across the country where multiple teams come to participate, said Jeff Demaray, the head mentor of the robotics club.

Two students in the robotics program, Marissa Harrison, 14, and Tessa Garlepied, 15, were the Middle School VEX Skyrise Competition 2014-2015 champions.

MCCC also has a robotics club, directed by Bob Leonard, separate from the VEX Robotics program.

Demarary said student usually begin practicing around the end of October or beginning of November.

“We are trying to get them to convert over to the VEX U robotics”, Demaray said.

Demaray said he uses the VEX Robotics program as a way to promote MCCC.

“We bring banners and promotions to the competitions to show the college to students who otherwise may not know it’s there,” Demaray said.

The VEX Robotics club is part of the STEM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) at MCCC, he said.

Participation in the club does go on the transcripts of the students, but no credits are offered at the moment. That’s something the group is working on, Demaray said.

The VEX Robotics group is a non-credit lifelong learning class, beginning this semester. 

There are two competitions per year, one at the Monroe County Fair and one in the Health Building at MCCC called The MCCC/Autodesk Fall VEX competition, which took place on Oct. 10.

The MCCC/Autodesk Fall VEX qualifier is a competition where students compete for a spot at the state championship at Michigan State University, Demaray said.

Seven local teams consisting of 21 students competed for the VEX trophy, along with teams from around the country.

“The events consist of four primary parts: qualification matches, elimination matches, skills and judging,” Demarary said.

After a quick inspection of the robots, the computer randomly generates two team alliances to compete.

The teams must work together to score as many points as possible.

During the skills tests, competitors are judged on their programming and driving skills.

The scores are kept separate and the top scoring team receives bids to states or the World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky.

Harrison and Garlepied have both been on the VEX Robotic team for three years.

“We have always been on the same team; we have done about 13 competitions together,” Harrison said. 

Their winning robot was an elevator lift that could stack cubes; the goal was to see whose robot could stack the cubes the highest.

Harrison and Garlepied said they worked on their robot for about five months with continuous improvements after that.

Both girls got involved in robotics after they were invited to see a robot competition.

“The first year of robotics is mostly just learning; our first robot barely worked at all,” Harrison said.

“We both went into this blind, it has definitely been a learning process,” Garlepied said. “We learn as we go.”

High school and elementary students can come to the robotics club Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m.

“We spread the word any way we can; anyone can show up,” Demaray said.

Being involved in VEX Robotics clubs either in elementary or high school gives the student an opportunity to compete for millions of dollars in scholarships from different colleges, according to Demaray.

“This is a good way for students to build their résumé and for kids to use their brain,” Demaray said.

He said the ultimate payoff is seeing the students be successful.

He got involved with robotics after his sons joined a robotics club during high school and never left.

“The kids are what bring me back; they aren’t the same when they leave,” Demaray said. “They grow and understand more.”

When the kids come to the club, there is no instruction kit; it is all up to them, he said.

“It is strictly trial and error. We help them when they need it, but they figure out how to build the robot on their own,” Demaray said.

Richard Mckinley, who started the robotics club at MCCC with Demaray, said his favorite part is working with the kids and helping them build robots.

Mckinley worked at Jefferson and Monroe High School and then started the program at MCCC.

“My favorite part is seeing the kids do things that I can’t, Mckinley said. “These are the best group of kids I have worked with.

Ethan Harbaugh, 13, and Samuel Mohn, 14, are first and third year club members respectively.

Mohn attended a competition in Louisville, Ken., and was ranked the 27th highest team in Michigan.

After seeing his brother do robotics at his high school, Mohn joined VEX as soon as he was old enough, he said.

“Trying to fix your mistakes every week is so much fun,” Harbaugh said. “It’s cool to see what other teams are creating and to compete against them.”

“Eventually you learn what everything does and how the parts work; then you can help other people who are just starting out,” Mohn said.

Derek Ball, dad of one of the members, said it is really nice seeing his son looking forward to coming to the robotic meetings and competitions.

“I needed something for him to get involved in that would generate an income one day,” Ball said. “It also allows us to bond as father and son; it gives us something to work on together.”

David Wasil, 12, says that he enjoys coming to the meetings because he likes to see his friends and build robots with them.”

Team member, Caden Smith, 13, said that it’s the team dedication that brings him back.

“Working with my team and never giving up is really cool,” Smith said. “Being determined and working together to build our robots is something I like.”