To say The Haverford School's robotics teams excelled at the 2012 VEX Robotics World Championship would be an understatement.
Seven years after its inception, the all-boys college prep school's Upper and Middle school teams, "The Calvary," dominated the April 18-21 championship in Anaheim, Calif., bringing home many accolades, among them, the Teamwork Award and the Excellence Award, which automatically qualifies them to compete in the 2013 VEX World Championship.
The overall growth of the team up to this point, as well as its recent performance, meant a great deal to the teams' adviser Megan Connolly, who brought home a Teacher of the Year Award from the championship.
"There was one kid when the team first started, five kids the year after…this year there were 30 – 20 in the Upper School and 10 in the Middle School," the school's Director of Technology said. "I'm happy with what they've done, but I'm also jazzed about the learning that goes on.
"The older and the more experienced students help the less experienced kids…I'm glad it's such a great learning environment," Connolly added.
VEX is a robotics design system that offers students affordable technology, as well as competitions, regarding co-curricular and extracurricular robotics.
The Haverford School's teams got involved with VEX after its first batch of competitions in 2005. Connolly, whose background is in software, said the competitions that school year required advanced engineering knowledge she felt wasn't at an appropriate development level for kids who were in the early stages of an interest in robotics.
Connolly learned about VEX's competitions and equipment, and reached out to the robotics design system company, which she said allowed the students to have a "much more hands on" approach to the building process.
The Haverford School was among 10,000 participating teams at the middle school, high school and university levels from nearly 20 countries.
Here's a breakdown of the Upper and Middle school Cavalry teams:
The Middle School Calvary team, group 169Y, won the Excellence Award and consisted of eighth graders Andrew Clark and Sam Shaw and seventh grader Chris Williams.
The Upper School Calvary teams, the Teamwork Award winners, were divided into three groups:
169A – Tadas Antanavicius, Tim Macguire, Jonathan Paras and William Ye, all of whom were Math Division champions.
169D – Josh White, Tim Delaney, Mason Hall and Shane Veno
169E – Steven Molitor, Chris Compendio and Evan Kuritzkes, who wrote the 500-word essay that won the Teamwork Award for the group.
"There's something for everyone on the team – some kids are interested in the business, economic, mechanical or programming aspects…it was necessary to have an English background for this criteria," Kuritzkes said. "I had to describe in an essay that we work well together rather than separate."
Seniors Antanavicius and Kelly Mao, a late addition to the team, explained the reason they worked well together – the different Upper School teams' robots were the same, but different in a few design and functional aspects. Antanavicius said the group would take what was good from each design and implement it in several different iterations of their robots.
In addition to cooperative teamwork, both teams met anywhere from three to six times per week when the school year started, working out design schematics, programming and any other criteria to help them construct their 30-inch tall robots.
"We were constantly changing our design up until the last minute, whatever it took to improve," White said.
Mao added that another reason their robots wouldn't finalize until the last minute was that "nothing ever goes as planned."
Their success illustrates that improvisation is clearly not a problem for the students on The Calvary team.
After each team competed in 10 matches over a two-day period, the Upper School took home their respective wins and awards, as did the Middle School 169Y team, which also held a seven-win record and placed 16 out of 100 in their division.
Victories aside, multiple teammates cited their overall experiences on the robotics team as a reason for potentially exploring career opportunities related to engineering, programming and designing when they get to college.
Senior Molitor, who will attend Amherst College in the fall, said nothing is set in stone as far as a field of study is concerned, but added there's a good chance he'll end up majoring in a scientific field.
"I've always been interested in science all of my life, which is one of the reasons I decided to join the robotics team in the first place," Molitor said via email. "The programming aspects of robotics is one reason why I am considering taking a programming class at Amherst College next year."
The robotics team at The Haverford School could very well have similar effects on future students, especially those in the Lower and Middle Schools. After an assembly for the Middle School's 169Y robotics group, Adviser Connolly said robotics would be further incorporated in the school's science program beginning next year with a LEGO lead program, which will not only introduce younger students to the field but also hopefully get them interested in joining The Calvary.
Regardless, Connolly said the team will increase its membership with a total of six group teams, three in the Upper School and three in the Middle School. Senior Antanavicius isn't surprised by the new ranks.