High school students from all over the world flocked to Elk Grove for robotics competition

Bryan Gray twice competed in FIRST Robotics Competition when he was a student at Vanden High School in Fairfield. Every year after he graduated, for the last 20 years, Gray has continued to make the time to volunteer at the annual competition.

FIRST means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It’s a nonprofit organization, which according to its website provides youth robotics programs to children aiming to build their skills and confidence in areas of science, technology and engineering.

Gray, now a FIRST regional chair, said the event is designed for every student to feel successful at the end of the competition.

“You’re actually here for everybody to succeed,” Gray said. “So even though your goal is to win the event, if you win the event at the expense of other teams, you haven’t really won … the idea is every student here should walk away having gained significant experience.”

Since 1992, the organization has held its FIRST Robotic Competition — inviting national and international high school programs and community youth groups to showcase their skills in math, science, technology and engineering.

In recent years, the event was held at UC Davis. This year it was held in Elk Grove at Pleasant Grove High School.

Lucian Mayers-Viseroy, a junior at Pleasant Grove, participated in the FIRST Robotics competition with his school’s robotics team through their IDEA program. He’s the lead programmer and lead electrician on his team.

“(It) stands for Innovative Design Engineering Academy,” Mayers-Viseroy said. “We’re learning all of the skills that we learn and apply in FRC robotics. We’re learning like digital design with the computer-aided drafting class, where we’re designing things in 3D and making some of them on many of our machines such as the laser cutter.”

Mayers-Viseroy has been part of the IDEA program since his freshman year at Pleasant Grove. The program, he said, helped him discover that he really enjoyed electrical work, programming and making robots.

FIRST Robotics competition judge adviser Teri Abrahamzon noted that the competition is based on three aspects.

“It’s about how am I going to help other teams, how am I going to help my community and how am I going to grow STEM,” Abrahamzon said.

The event drew in high school students from throughout Northern California and from as far as Hawaii and China.

Cathy and Jack Shen are in the 11th grade at Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School in China. They were stoked to embark on this experience and travel the world; however, they encountered some setbacks on the trip.

“We had to break our robot apart to get it here,” Jack Shen said. “We broke it into large pieces. However, there were some problems with our boxes. The size wasn’t good enough so we had to break it into smaller pieces. And during the process of traveling, it is coming from the plane and the stuff is being thrown around caused some parts to break.”

They also couldn’t take batteries on the flight so they had to leave a key component to their robots back in Shanghai. Once they landed in the United States, their mission would be to replace the batteries.

“So we found some teams local in San Francisco,” Cathy said. “They lent us some batteries and also we borrowed some battery chargers from them.”

There were teams at the competition that were around to lend a hand to teams and participants that needed extra supplies.

For some, it wasn’t about the competition, but instead the experience to meet so many other talented young people from around the world.

Nutnicha Go, a senior at Kealakehe High School in Hawaii, was inspired to see students from California and China compete at the same competition. What made it more special for Go is seeing all the girls who were participants.

“It’s just so inspiring and I think it’s also empowering in some ways,” Go said. “(Being) a girl myself, I’m a little biased, but I think I was just really proud to see all these (all)-female teams and female mentors … it’s (rare) to see girls in STEM.”

Go added: “FIRST robotics is just a way of inspiring kids to explore STEM opportunities and STEM careers. I think it’s a really great way to show that we can do more to impact our community than something inside a school. We can do more to impact our community outside of school.”

One of her peers, teammate Kenta Vanderpool, said he felt empowered simply by being in the same place as other talented students.

“Just being able to be in the same region and be around these people who are like sort of leading the high school robotics industry in a sense is really inspiring and empowering,” Vanderpool said. “Us as a small team from Hawaii, from some relatively small city in Hawaii, to come and be able to collaborate, help and be helped by these teams is just a super-amazing opportunity.”

Janet McKinley, FIRST’s Sacramento regional director, said the winners from this event will go on to the world championships in Houston, where they will compete with 600 teams during several days of matches to win awards, be crowned national champion and world champion.

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