Robotics team makes up for lost time with expedited help from mentors

Winters High School Robotics Team (L-R) Back: Benjamin Nelson, Jack Tuel, Lilianna Rodriguez, Kianna Miller, Celeste Garcia-Rodarte. Front: Kenneth Matheson, Jesus Cruz, Rayanne Roberts. Team members not pictured: Hannah Arias-Dunlop, Madeline Drake, Kimberly Garcia Gutierrez, Diego Rodriguez, Trinity Sponsler, ALberto Duran and Melesio Perez Jr. Courtesy photo

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COVID sidelined the Winters High School Robotics team last year. This year, however, Google Vice President of Engineering Shivakumar Venkataraman and students from The Harker School in San Jose are helping them gear up quickly for competition.

Dianne Halsey, WHS engineering instructor, has a litany of experience in robotics and is also a VEX Robotics member. When she reached out to the forum of members, Venkataraman asked how he could help. They then devised a mentorship plan to help the WHS team get ready to compete in the upcoming VEX Pacific Open.

“The VP of Google has sponsored my robotics teams at past schools. Last year, he sponsored five teams and has teams of his own,” Halsey said, talking about the collaboration. “The week we were able to get on campus, the Harker School team was there guiding the students over Zoom.”

Why have students guide students? There are around 30,000 robotics teams globally, and the Harker School team — Team 315 — is ranked 10th. Venkataraman’s daughter, Nidhya, is on that team and has been assisting the WHS students for the last four weeks to get them ready for the upcoming competition in June.

The competition is a complex game with blue and red balls scattered in a small arena. Each team’s robots are tasked with collecting their balls and placing them in several baskets around the arena. Other teams can knock balls out of their opponents’ baskets or opt to stack their own to bolster their points. For a more in-depth look, visit YouTube and search “VEX Robotics Competition Change Up: 2020-2021 Game.”

“The kids are Zooming and showing them what they completed. After the Zoom, the kids would go back to work on other stuff,” Halsey said about the mentorship. “It’s been amazing. Nidhya can show the students stuff and it’s different than a teacher just standing there.”

Along with the mentorship, the WHS team had a field trip to Solano Community College. There, they were introduced to Doug Green from Megatronics and got to see all of the state-of-the-art machines and robotics.

“With his robotics experience and mentorship, it’s super valuable the skills the kids are learning because they are industry standards,” Halsey said praising Green’s robotics program at Solano. “My Principles of Engineering [class] coincides with Green’s Megatronics 101. Two of the kids who graduated last year are taking his class.”

The students of WHS are making up for lost time through these valuable collaborations, and will prove in competition, Winters is far more than just an agriculture town. With the help of Venkataraman and Team 315, the team from the 530 will undoubtedly turn gears and heads in the robotics community.

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