Their name may make you wonder, but don’t kid yourselves. Funny as Nevada Nerds Anonymous might sound, students on the Nevada High School robotics team are serious about their efforts and preparing for competition.
For those who aren’t familiar, robotics (and teams who participate in FIRST Tech Challenges) is about designing, building, programming and operating robots to compete in head-to-head challenges. In addition, robotics with FIRST Tech Challenge requires teams to fundraise, participate in community outreach, write and carry out business plans and document their entire journey.
“FTC has something for anyone, which makes it so much more than just robotics,” said Katie Borton, a science teacher and instructional guide in the Nevada Schools, and one of the coaches for Nevada Nerds Anonymous.
This is the third year that the Nevada Schools has fielded a robotics team. The group — made up of one senior, three juniors, two sophomores, one freshmen, one eighth-grader and four seventh-graders — is also coached by Katie Borton’s husband, James, a managing software engineer for John Deere; and the team is mentored by Mike Pash, a software engineer for Iowa State University.
Nathan Tanner, a junior who has been on the team for all three years of its existence, said he likes the way robotics competition works. “You can be allied with someone (in one round), and then playing against them (in the next),” he explained. Therefore, getting along with all the other teams’ members is a big part of doing well.
The team talks a lot about the concept of gracious professionalism, which junior member Andrew Barloon said is a big emphasis for the team. It’s as important a concept for robotics as sportsmanship is to athletic teams, Barloon agreed.
Barloon said he became part of the robotics team because he wants to go into engineering some day. “I started last year as a sophomore,” he said.
Max Deveno, a ninth-grader, is also interested in engineering — software engineering. Deveno handles most of the team’s programming. “I have the computer that has all the codes on it, so when they add something new, I have to add in all the variables,” Deveno explained. “My main job is to make the robot obey the commands of the driver.”
Many of the participants are kids who say they’re interested in engineering as a career, and Borton said the skills they are building by participating are related to engineering and business. There are also soft skills involved, she said, such as giving speeches and informal presentations, networking, collaboration and journaling.
Ben Humpal-Pash, an eighth grader, is the business and communication person on the team. “I write letters to businesses asking for donations, and I keep our business notebook,” Humpal-Pash said. The detailed notes and journaling work he does will be part of how the team does overall when those journals are judged at competition.
For local residents who have never seen a robotics competition in action, Nevada Nerds Anonymous has good news. This January, Nevada will host the League Championship at the high school — 18 teams from around Central Iowa will come here to compete. Teams from the championship will move on to the Super Qualifier at John Deere Financial in February.
The Nevada-hosted tournament will take place Jan. 27. Teams will begin arriving around 8 a.m., and matches will start around 10:30. The event is free to attend.
Borton said she could use some volunteers from the community who might be willing to help with various things that day. Those interested are asked to email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far this year, Nevada Nerds Anonymous took third place at a meet in Marshalltown, and fifth place at a Dec. 16 meet at Valley High School. They have another meet on Jan. 6 at Ankeny Centennial before the League Championship in Nevada.
Samantha Rout, a seventh-grader, said she got involved because of the encouragement of Mrs. Borton, who at the end of the last school year gave her a note to think about being in robotics. She’s glad she decided to be on the team. “I like that it’s hands-on, and it makes my brain think,” Rout said. She used to watch her dad, a mechanic, work on cars and other things, so she had an interest in how things worked. But usually, she didn’t do more than watch him. Now, with robotics, she gets her hands dirty, so to speak. “It’s furthered my understanding (of how things work) even more… I love doing it and learning how to work with a team.”
Tanner said seeing the four-seventh graders and one eighth-grader on the team is great, because to him, “it kind of shows the future of the program. I’m going to graduate (in 2019) … so, it is the middle-schoolers who will be helping keep this going.”