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Wallingford robotics program celebrates season, fundraises for world competition

WALLINGFORD — The VEX IQ robotics program at CT STEM Academy celebrated their competition season at a breakfast on Saturday morning joined by about 150 attendees including families, students, board members, donors and Mayor William Dickinson Jr.

Dickinson highlighted the academy’s contributions and success throughout the season.

“Students learning is such a home run,” he said. “You're not going to town championship. You're not going to the state championship. You're not going to the regional championship. I understand you're going to the world championship.”

The celebration began with a series of acknowledgements from CT STEM Academy Director Chris Stone. He thanked donors, the mayor, Wallingford Youth and Social Services, SCOW, among others. Afterwards, Robotics Director Laura Juárez made a point of thanking the coaches, parents and other volunteers.

“This program is not only run by me, or Chris. It really does take a village,” she said.

To recognize their hard work during the season, every student that participated in the program received a diploma, a small trophy and a 3D printed keychain with the mini license plates that mark the robots during VEX competitions. 

The teams have been working on preparing their robots to compete in VEX IQ Competitions since the fall of last year. This year, nine teams from the academy made it to statewide competitions and two teams from the academy will be traveling to the world competitions in Dallas, Texas, scheduled for late April. 

The experience is different every year and students are tasked with designing a robot that can meet the new challenge at the beginning of the season. For this year’s game, students had to create a robot that could activate a puck dispenser and shoot them to a scoring site on the other side of a flat, 6-foot by 8-foot field.

The first team to qualify was team A, a four-person elementary team made up of Leo Brown, Joseph Ball, Lee Parsons and Rodrigo Juárez. The team created a robot they named Bob the Uber because they used to deliver food with it in the early days. During statewide competitions, they won two awards – a first place design award and the teamwork champions award.

Coach Brady Galligan was a member of the academy and now volunteers as a coach. He has seen a lot of growth in his students’ technical skills

“At the beginning of the season, they were a bit of a mess, but they were always really good at communicating with each other, even when the robot design didn’t work or they tried something that didn’t work. They were always able to get their ideas to each other from day one,” he said.

The second team that qualified for states was team C, a middle school team of four made up of Brendon Vecsey, Phillip Cyr, Victoria Cyr and Sam Massameno. They affectionately nicknamed their robot “brain damage.” 

Even though they did not score an automatic invitation to worlds, the team won the Think award at states and was invited to compete by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation based on their overall performance throughout the year. 

Mark Cyr is a parent and volunteer coach for his daughter’s team. Cyr has worked as an engineer at Lockheed Martin and volunteered at CT STEM for four years. He highlighted the group’s teamwork and communication skills.

“They took the teamwork Excellence Award at one point – just seeing that growth where they can handle themselves as mini-adults. Now I've been able to step back and just make sure they get from point A to point B, and they're doing the rest,” he said.

At this point, the teams are no longer allowed to make any modifications to the robots. To prepare, team A and C will be doing Powerhouse practices that focus on driving skills, coding and virtual interview skills. 

The teams are also trying to raise $15,000 through GoFundMe to offset the cost of travel and pay the entrance fee and the shipping costs for the robots.

“Trust me, it’s a lot,” Juárez said. “Flights, hotels, everything. Anything that you can do to help is appreciated.” 

The fundraiser to send students from CT STEM Academy to worlds is online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/robotics-world-championships-dallas-texas-trip. The STEM Academy also has plans to host additional community fundraisers and post them on social media on https://www.facebook.com/ctstem/ and https://www.instagram.com/ctstem/

lguzman@record-journal.comTwitter: @lguzm_n 

Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re, To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.

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