The journey of the Wayland High School Robotics Team


Credit: Wayland Robotics Facebook Page

The robotics team poses in front of their robots at one of their competitions. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the team is making the most out of their season and have qualified for districts. “I think STEM is really important to the future, and I also think that you can learn some very valuable life skills through robotics,” junior Bella Thoen said.

Katya Luzarraga

The WHS robotics team is back to competitions, qualifying for nationals in Houston, Texas after a two year shutdown due to COVID-19. Through the shutdown, the robotics team strived to continue creating robots and exploring the world of STEM.

After their success in districts, the team attended the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship in Houston, Texas from April 19 to April 24. They participated in the regional competition and then moved forward to the national level, extending their stay in Houston.

Every year, the robotics team begins in the fall up until January, where they hold meetings in the MakerSpace, their preseason. In the winter, when their season officially begins, meetings are held three times a week from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and then become more frequent once the team advances further into the season.

“The robotics club is open to everyone,” senior robotics captain Isabelle Wang said. “Oftentimes, people just come but they aren’t willing to try it, so they’re just there and that makes it more difficult to actually get involved in STEM.”

Another big challenge of resuming robotics meetings were the numbers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the team lost many members due to the fact that meetings were online and did not involve attending competitions in person. Competitions are a significant aspect of robotics and pique the interest of many, since that is where teams showcase their robots that they’ve worked on all year.

“[The COVID-19 year] made it a lot harder to recruit and retain members, as we couldn’t meet in-person or attend competitions,” junior robotics Co-Vice President Bella Thoen said.

Robotics involves hours of brainstorming the blueprint for the team’s robot, as well as figuring out the mechanics of how it will function. According to Wang, this is why collaboration and consistent meetings with the team are crucial to success.

“For me, [the hardest thing is] getting an idea from my head into the real world, because I work on the mechanical side of the team,” Wang said. “The whole idea of robotics is to work with others to create something together, because it’s difficult to build something on your own.”

If one part of the robot does not work, then the robot as a whole cannot function. This is the biggest issue for Thoen when she works on building the robot for competitions.

“I think the hardest part is figuring out how each subsystem of the robot will work together so that we can have the most efficient and effective robot,” Thoen said. “We’re trying to win, of course, but I think it’s more about seeing what our robot, which we’ve worked so hard on, can do, [and] seeing all of our hard work come to life.”

This year, the main objective of the robotics competitions is to gain as many points for their team as possible. This happens by their robots competing in individual matches based on certain sports topics.

“The competition is like a basketball tournament this year, it’s kind of like a mini tournament, and there are individual matches,” Wang said. “[The robots] have to throw a ball into a goal, and the number of balls you throw into the goal determines the amount of points you get in that match.”

Being able to meet with people who enjoy the world of STEM is very validating for many students involved in the robotics team. Having a safe space to bounce ideas off each other and come every week to see how their hard work is coming together in the form of a robot is one of the highlights of the team.

“As we go to the meetings, the robot that we’re working on develops over time and it’s a cool process to see that happen with the people on the [robotics] team,” sophomore robotics member Justin Cai said.

Students do not have as many opportunities to learn about STEM in school. This is why the robotics team feels passionate about expanding the knowledge of STEM to other students who need a push to take part in the robotics team.

“I think STEM is really important to the future, and I also think that you can learn some very valuable life skills through robotics,” Thoen said.