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BABBITT— Winning a major sponsorship has opened doors for the Iron Mosquitoes, the robotics team from Northeast Range School. They’ve been on a roll ever since last May, when the team …
BABBITT— Winning a major sponsorship has opened doors for the Iron Mosquitoes, the robotics team from Northeast Range School.
They’ve been on a roll ever since last May, when the team made it to the state robotics tournament for the first time, where they nabbed a Design and Engineering award from Dunwoody College of Technology.
Then, in October, several members of the team were invited to Palm Springs, Calif. to take part in the 2022 American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference.
Coach Ryan Lindsay explained how the invite to Palm Springs came about.
“A couple of years ago there was a thing that went out where FIRST wanted to know about our Native American participation on our team, so we filled out a survey,” he said. Lindsay explained that FIRST is an acronym (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) for the nonprofit organization that puts on the robotics tournaments and events. “We didn’t know what it was for, but there’s like three or four teams up north that have some Native participation,” he said. “So last year we had four Native students out of the 18 or so total participants, so like 25 percent. We found out the reason that (the survey) went out was because Apple was looking to support teams, and they were working with AISES to try to identify some teams with Native American participation.”
What came next was a surprise the team didn’t see coming, Lindsay said.
“We ended up getting some nice corporate sponsorship (from Apple) - like real money that makes a big difference,” he said.
Lindsay said that while the sponsorship was quite a bit of money, “it goes fast for robot parts.” Then this year the Apple sponsorship money tripled, said Lindsay. “Which was like WHOA! We can afford to do some stuff! So that was really nice.”
That wasn’t all. Apple also invited members of the Iron Mosquitoes, as well as members of the Red Lake and Cass Lake teams, to display in their booth at the AISES national conference. At that point Lindsay said he asked the staff at Apple how they’d like to see their sponsorship dollars used. Apple representatives told Lindsay they want to support outreach and have kids be exposed to things, such as the FIRST program.
“I think the guy who pushed the grant is an engineer from Apple and he coached a team out there,” said Lindsay. “They paid for most of our trip and shipping our robot out and they had a booth in the college and career fair there and they said ‘You guys are responsible for this booth.’”
Lindsay said that it was an Apple booth, but the four teams ran the booth and drove their robots around while making connections with other conference exhibitors and attendees. Some of the other exhibitors included IBM and Tesla. Lindsay said that the networking was an invaluable part of the experience.
“We met lots of people from all over the country and the kids got exposed to lots of things,” he said.
Senior Zoey Cameron credits her time on the team with giving her the confidence to spark up a conversation with just about anyone. “The most fun part of it was building better human capital. We talked to major companies like Tesla, major companies who I feel could help our team get even bigger,” she said.
Zoey was one of the six students who attended the conference on behalf of the Iron Mosquitos – four (counting Zoey) who had been on the team and two more Native students from school who Lindsay says show a lot of potential.
“I hope they join the team,” she said.
Lindsay noted that the trip to Palm Springs wouldn’t have been possible without some help from closer to home as well.
“There’s been community members who have helped,” he said. “The Regional Tribal Council and Pam Hughes Prevention Program and Vermilion parent group helped send the kids on the trip, too. They helped us out a lot. And the district chipped in, too.”
Now back from their California adventure, the Iron Mosquitoes are far from languishing until January when the new challenge is released for robotics teams. Outreach is a big part of what the team does to inspire upcoming young students to discover an interest in robotics.
As part of this outreach, seven members of the team put on a demonstration at Tower-Soudan Elementary for students earlier this month. Team members demo drove the robot around the gym and a couple of student volunteers even got to shoot balls with the robot. Students were able to check out three different stations – electrical, pneumatic and motors. While the robotics demonstrations are always a lot of fun, they’re also a valuable and effective way for kids to get excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Tenth-grader Ian Sunsdahl, who does Weld and Build for the Iron Mosquitos, first experienced robotics when he was an elementary student in Tower.
“I was first interested in robotics when the team came to my elementary school to present the robot,” he said.
Sunsdahl said he joined the team in ninth grade and was part of the group who went to California, where his responsibility was to take care of the pneumatics demonstration.
“I plan to have a career in machining or engineering,” he said.
Senior Driver Owen Koivisto, who, like Sunsdahl, first got interested in robotics after seeing a demonstration at Tower Elementary, found his own way to pay it forward to young people. He was awarded a 2022 FIRST Equity and Inclusion Financing Initiative grant to put on two robotics camps at the Boys & Girls Club Vermilion and Boys & Girls Club Nett Lake. Junior Hailey Lindquist, who is Lead Programmer for the team, will also be participating in the camps.
“I will be doing a small code session since I program for this team and love helping with our outreach. It’s great to be able to show kids what we are able to do as high school students, and getting involved with younger people shows them that they can do this, too,” she said.
There was no shortage of enthusiasm for the team’s future, which was evident when Lindquist added, “This year, we are really planning to put in as much time and effort as possible to win a regional competition. We had an amazing last season and we can definitely make it this year.”
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