Students show off engineering skills at FIRST Robotics District Competition in Kentwood

Posted at 4:50 PM, Mar 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-06 17:29:10-05

KENTWOOD, Mich. – Forty high schools from around the state came to East Kentwood High School to show off their engineering skills in the annual FIRST Robotics District Competition that started Friday.

This competition is focused on training Michigan’s future engineers through the program FIRST or, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Yet, for some student teams, it stands for redefining their neighborhood.

This is Muskegon Heights High School’s second year competing. High school sophomore Antonio Thomas told FOX 17 their team is making a name for their community.

“We’re hoping that, for one, we spread that Heights is more than just what everybody thinks we are: we can be smart kids and athletes at the same time,” said Thomas. “We plan on making this grow and being stronger as a community and as a family, and to show Tiger pride.”

These students only had six weeks to design and build these robots. In January teams receive their challenge, essential building materials, and learn what their robot challenge is.

College recruiters are in the 1,500-person audience, watching Michigan’s future engineers.

“What we’re really trying to focus on is challenging the kids to do innovative creative solving of problems, because our world is so technologically advanced, it’s not relying on the muscles anymore,” said Wendy Ljungren, event director.

This year’s challenge is stacking: robots earn points strategically stacking certain colored recycling bins, or “totes.” Yet Muskegon Heights High School’s team had another approach.

“We wanted to go after something different and go after the pushing the tote,” said Eshaan Banks, Muskegon Heights HS junior. “We added more motors to give it more boost, horsepower, and speed.”

For their team, it’s not just about getting to state finals; they said it’s about their future.

“I am so proud of these guys,” said Joy Cooper, Muskegon Heights HS robotics coach. “They’ve been working their butts off for six weeks, trying to make something out of nothing, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

East Kentwood High School is hosting this district competition at their Field House until 8 p.m. Friday, and then Saturday March 7 from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The playoffs are scheduled for Saturday from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.

The winning teams will advance to the state competition April 8 through 11, at the Grand Rapids’ DeltaPlex.