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LHS Robotics: Revolutionary education for students

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | May 14, 2015

The Lahainaluna Robotics Team members wholeheartedly thank their sponsors and supporters. Pictured, from left, are: back row — Warren Tapec, Jerico Olpindo, Michael Doan, Andrew Naganuma, Jarred Lunes, Aaron Yogi, Josh Ramelb, Malama Cabagua, Mike Nguyen, Angel Calderon and Chase Bumanglag; front row — Jasmyn Swangel, Alissa Samonte and Alana Power.

LAHAINA – Robotics has become an international phenomenon. The making of robots brings together several very different areas of mechanical and electrical engineering. It incorporates design, construction, operation and application of robots as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback and information processing.

Today’s extraordinary technological advances in the field enable robots to serve domestically, commercially and militarily. In addition, the study of robotics offers revolutionary education for students.

Over the past two years, Maui Economic Development Board’s Ke Alahele Education Fund – a grant-making vehicle for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education – has awarded numerous robotics grants to elementary, middle and high school programs in Maui County. Some of the funds established new robotics programs, while other funds have been directed to the high school division of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), VEX and Botball robotics projects.

The interscholastic competitions in the robotic field have become popular educational tools and have found their way throughout the State of Hawaii and into West Side schools.

For example, in just the last four years, the Lahainaluna High School Robotics Program has grown noticeably in size and sophistication. Many students, with remarkable vigor and success, have been participating in the increasingly dynamic world of robotic competition.

“Our team first started in 2011 with only three mentors and a small handful of students,” said Jasmyn Swangel, 11th grade president of the Lahainaluna Robotics Team 3882. “Today, we are happy to recognize six mentors and 14 boys and girls that have worked hard throughout this past FIRST Robotics Competition build season.”

Known as the “varsity sport for the mind,” the FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources and time limits, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand and sharpen teamwork skills. Plus, they build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.

“FIRST is a worldwide organization that helps young students discover the endless possibilities of science and technology,” explained Swangel, noting that most people think robotics is robots fighting to the death.

“That isn’t the case,” she explained. “The FIRST Robotics Competition strives to advocate the principles of cooperation, innovation and gracious professionalism while also incorporating the STEM concepts.”

“It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get,” she said, noting the team’s build season started on Jan. 3 and ended on Feb. 17.

“We only had a six-week period to build a fully functioning robot before putting it in a crate and shipping it off to the regional competition. However, because robotics is not yet an offered class at Lahainaluna, our members dedicated their own personal time by coming in everyday after school, six days a week, to work on the robot.”

This was Lahainaluna’s first year attending two regionals and first time competing on the Mainland. They attended the Los Angeles Regional at Long Beach Arena in California, as well as the Hawaii Regional at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“In Long Beach, we ranked 19 out of 66, moving up to the fourth seed and making it all the way to the semifinals. In Oahu, we ranked 14 out of 36 teams, moving up to the fourth seed along with Maui High, and reached the quarterfinals,” Swangel said proudly.

Next year, Lahainaluna hopes to attend two regionals again and to expand their team even more by getting involved in VEX, the largest and fastest growing educational competitive robotics program in the world.

Presented by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation and Northrop Grumman Foundation, VEX had over 10,000 accomplished teams from 32 countries come together this past April to put their engineering expertise to the test. Before traveling, the competitors spent countless hours designing, building, programming and testing their robotics skills at numerous local, state and regional competitive events. The regional champions can qualify for the VEX World Championship.

“Also,” said Swangel, “our team would like to introduce robotics to the younger generations at Princess Nahienaena Elementary School and King Kamehameha III. And, we would like to mentor Lahaina Intermediate School, since they already have a VEX IQ team.”

The Lahainaluna Robotics Team members wholeheartedly thank their sponsors and supporters, without whom their successful competitions would not be possible.

“The cost for each regional is $5,000, not including travel cost and robot parts,” Swangel said. “The amount of money Lahainaluna collected through grants, sponsors, fund-raisers and students paying for some things came out to $28,000 for this past season.”

For information on sponsor donations for Lahainaluna High School, call (808) 662-4000. For information about Maui Economic Development Board’s Ke Alahele Education Fund, visit www.medb.org.