Lee robotics team earns spot at world championship, recounts how robotics impacts them

MIDLAND, Tx. (KOSA) A Midland high school’s robotics team is headed to the state then world championships, where they will be competing against more than 130 teams from 70 countries world-wide.

The 10-person Samurai Robotics team at Lee High School will be competing in Houston on Tuesday.

Career and Technical Education Department chair and robotics teacher, Alan Pitkin, explained how the team decides to design the robot to complete the game tasks.

“In September, they have a date where everyone in the world sees it at the same time. Then they release the manuals to see how the game is going to be played then everybody starts brainstorming and decides how they’re going to build their robot, what’s the best design for their robot, how they’re going to score the most amount of points. Then they go to the next step as far as how they’re going to build that,” he said.

The educator, who’s taught for 32 years, said the Samurai group has competed against other teams across the area all year to represent West Texas in the world championship.

Lead builder and team captain, Cristian Valeriano, said the robot they built for the world competition is the third or fourth version.

“We’re here in class, after school, on weekends, on holidays we’ll take the robot to someone’s house and work on it from there,” he said.

Getting from the design on paper to a working machine that wins competitions has allowed the team to utilize the knowledge they learn in school.

“It helps you learn a lot about the real world. With our outreach, you have to do business and finance and get plans done and it helps you understand that,” Kaylee Farr said.
“It’s seeing all the work you do in a classroom, all the work that you’ve been taught, all the math, seeing that all applied in the real world, all the physics is really interesting. It’s really fun to see how the programming I’m doing in my class is really going to help me later on,” Douglas Doerfer said.

But the team’s project is about more than using academic building blocks. Team members said it has helped them decide their college and career goals.

“I love programming, it’s one of my favorite things. And this has actually helped find the passion in what I want to do later in life,” Lang Tang said.

The senior added that he plans on becoming a computer engineer.

“It’s inspired me to keep on going, look more at engineering, whereas I was looking more at a mathematics sort of focus. I think the actually application of mathematics has really enticed me,” Douglas Doerfer said.

Robotics teacher Alan Pitkin said he enjoys seeing students implement theories they’ve learned and seeing how they grow during their time on the team.

“The big thing is to see what they do after they leave high school. And my joy is when I see them come in and they don’t know anything, they look at each other and think, ‘I can’t do this. And later they start doing it on their own,” he said.

The team captain said his time learning with the team has been rewarding.

“I just love building. It’s so much fun to see something you’ve made actually work. Something you put together your heart, your time, your hours, your work actually work.

When asked how they feel about earning a spot at the world championship competition, the team said they are excited.

“Well that’s what we’ve been working toward every year, just trying to get to worlds. We’ve come short a couple years but, I mean, being my senior year and going to worlds finally just feels great. I’m excited for it and I feel like we’re going to do pretty well,” Valeriano said.

“We’re able to go to worlds on the first year. It’s fun to see how we’ve grown to one big team and being able to show it all it really makes proud to show the growth that we’ve had,” Farr said.

“I feel confident because usually when it comes to programming competitions before, I would stay till about two in the morning at school and that’s never fun. But I’ve actually got it done four days, a week early now, so we’re right on schedule. It’s a little nerve wracking because it is worlds, so there’s 130 teams from all around the world, all over the states. And obviously they’re here too just like we’re here. They’re the best of the best out of their region and they’re going to be playing probably as hard as we are,” Tang said.

“It’s pretty awesome. It sets a really high standard and just gives a really positive impact and really positive feeling about robotics,” Doerfer said.

“Well it’s joy for them. They know how much work they put into it. And when they win, they jump up and down, they’re crying, they’re really enjoying the win,” Pitkin said.