In only their first year of existence as an official class, these students placed high in the Alamo Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio in February — their robot ranking 16 out of 61 others and ending up in the competition’s quarter finals. (First, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” offers college scholarships, to grades 9 through 12; ages 14 through 18.)
TRSHS students Nidhi Rathod, Lonnie Reyes, Vanessa Stewart, Tori Garcia and Lacey Retzloff—all 17-year-old juniors—worked dilgently to create “Fido,” the school mascot-themed robot that won them their recent FIRST acclaim.
The group works closely with instructor Judy Hudek on an ongoing basis to learn, create, and master everything they can about the robotics field. They tend to work extensively, as much as 20 hours a week together, and earn a science credit each semester for their efforts.
The program essentially began when Hudek, a veteran teacher with over 17 years of experience, recently came to work for the TRISD. She brought with her over a decade of student robotics teaching experience.
Under her guidance, Nidhi, Lonnie and Vanessa worked together on robotics projects last year before this year’s class was formally established.
“We did it on our own time, and then we petitioned our superintendent and principal to create this class,” Nidhi explained “She (Hudek) was our chemistry teacher last year and we did work on this during class or at lunch. We weren’t as much a study group as much as a group of students working on their own. I helped build but also did most of the programming, an autonomous program that allows the robot to move on its down.”
After official permission was granted, it was time to formally begin a robotics class. After starting the high school’s current robotics and current rocketry programs, student interest accumulated—then waned—quickly. Nidhi, Lonnie, and Vanessa quickly the bedrock of the class.
“When it came down to it, it was the work of these three (Nidhi, Rathod, and Reyes) that got us to FIRST regionals,” Hudek said.
Reyes, who also plays football for the school, really enjoys his work.
“I love movies like ‘Short Circuit’ and ‘Robocop’ and ‘Bicentennial Man’ … and I have always wanted to create a robot,” he said. “Finally, the opportunity arose last year. I’ve been to some robotics camps, too. It’s fun to take stuff apart and put it back together … It’s really entertaining. We all have an enjoyable time working together.”
Amanda Ginster said she became fascinated with the group last year because of its air of mystery. Nidhi, Lonnie and Vanessa were working together all the time but nobody knew on exactly what.
“When I learned about it, I wanted in—I wanted to help them in any way I could,” Amanda said. “It seemed fun and interesting and I realized I could learn a lot from it,. I realized I want to go into the marketing aspect of robotics—educating the public about it.”
Several of the students say they definitely will follow up with robotics in college.
Nidhi, for instance, hopes to be MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)-bound. Lonnie is hoping to head for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to learn about mechanical and electrical programs. He has been there for several robotics camps.
In the nomenclature of football, the Cyber Dawgs are basically the robotic varsity at Three Rivers Senior High.
But they’re not alone in their endeavors.
There are two other robotics teams with younger students: K-9 and the RoboPups, as well as five rocketry teams and even a submarine team.
Reporter Ben Tinsley can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 361-786-3022.
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