Putting the Metal to the Pedal: West High Robotics Club

All four West High teams at the state level of the FTC competition.

All four West High teams at the state level of the FTC competition.

West High School’s Robotics Club has been putting the metal to the pedal this year. The Robotics Club is composed of four teams: Scrap Metal, Technomancers, Westie Besties, and Metal Feather

Scrap Metal powered forward to pull off an electrifying win at the 2022-23 state level FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics competition. The four members: Maxim Ishchuk; Toa Saulala; Manning Zhang; and Lucianne Ubasa will be headed to Houston in mid-April for the Worlds level. Metal Feather, in an alliance with Scrap Metal during the competition, won the 2nd place Inspire Award.

Scrap Metal’s team captain, Maxim Ishchuk, described the inner workings of the FTC competition. “Every year, an organization called FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science and Technology) comes up with a new game for the FTC challenge, which teams all around the world participate in. This year, there are yellow poles on a field and the robots are supposed to place cones on top of the poles.” He also mentioned that students from more than 30 countries will be at the Houston FTC competition, and his mom will be chaperoning his team.

Ishchuk, of Ukrainian descent, has a love for robotics that extends beyond West High’s robotics. He is the president of a robotics team in the Anchorage community, which takes part in the First Robotics Competition (FRC), and has led it to success as well. 

Building the FTC robot was no easy task. Ishchuk spoke about gathering materials. “We have to buy our own parts, and it takes a lot of fundraising. We try to reuse parts from past years. To get sponsors, we contact companies such as Spenard Builders Supply. We use a lot of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and the software Fusion 360.” The West High robotics lab also has a 3-D printer, laser cutter, and CNC machine.

Maria Kingry working with her team and Mr. Souza.

Maria Kingry, a freshman who is part of the Technomancers team, said, “The learning process was 100% trial and error. We were shown the lab, given some basic materials, and then introduced to the FTC competition. We made mistakes and tried to make things work.”

Prior to her participation in the West Robotics Club, Kingry had never done robotics before, but was inspired by Anchorage Makerspace, a community workshop. When she heard about the club at West, she was determined to be a part of it. Despite the constant flow of challenges, Kingry persevered. When asked what her favorite part of robotics was, she said, “After things aren’t working, not working, still not working, and then that euphoric moment when everything comes together.” 

The FTC competition doesn’t just end with the building/design component. Kingry mentioned that “Outreach” is required. “Part of the competition is reaching out to your local community. We did refereeing and volunteered at some events for elementary school kids. We did field trips to learn about careers and talked to companies to collect sponsorships. It enriches what we do and the competition.”

The Outreach program has sparked further interest in STEM for younger students. In fact, Romig Middle School is now in the process of organizing a team to participate in next year’s FTC. Tobias Gingerich, of Westie Besties, said, “We went to Romig and worked with different teachers to promote the STEM curriculum. My favorite part of robotics is building and designing robots and I want to spread this to other students.” 

The four members of Scrap Metal, the winning team of the FTC competition. Pictured from left to right: Lucianne Ubasa, Maxim Ishchuk, Manning Zhang, and Toa Saulala.

Ishchuk added, “We’ve done a lot of volunteering, such as at elementary school robotics competitions. We’ve presented to schools with practice robot kits. We allowed the younger population to try and build their own robots just like we do.”

Ishchuk highlighted the importance of the community aspect. “By going around and having a voice in the community, by giving these presentations, we show that robotics is fun and you don’t have to be some crazy genius to be able to do it. Many start as beginners. Older members have experience and give training presentations to those who are interested in the club. We’ll all help you and point you to resources. We want to drive this club forward.”West High is proud of its Robotics Club, wishes everyone a Happy National Robotics Week, and hopes for continued success for Scrap Metal in Houston this month.