Dakota Adventist Academy has found a niche that students are excited about: robotics. When technology director Peter Kenaston arrived at DAA, he began talking with administration about how to bring IT to the school. Robotics was chosen, and 10 students eagerly signed up to be a part of the robotics club. Kenaston applied for and received grants totaling $11,500 for registration, materials and travel to Florida for the FIRST Tech Challenge with the Adventist League.

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.  According to data from the FIRST Longitudinal Study, students in this program are 2.6 times more likely to enroll in an engineering course their first year of college, and 75 percent of FIRST alumni are more likely to work in a STEM field. FIRST participants are also more likely to attend college and show increased communication, problem solving, time management and conflict resolution skills.

The team—named Tin Heads—designed, built, programmed and operated a robot they called Genesis.  The students kept a notebook labeling the engineering principles and STEM skills learned. On May 2, four students and two sponsors traveled to Forest Lake Academy for the FIRST Tech Challenge.

Team member Rosalyn Ray, a junior, wrote that many of the team members wanted to go for the experience and to see the competition, but not actually to participate. “But Mr. Kenaston enforced that we stick with it,” she explained. “So we did. We worked and reworked our robot so much we had to replace a piece on the rack and piston set that was worn out from so many test runs.”

When the competition began, the Tin Heads jumped into first place. “We were stunned, but tried to stay calm,” wrote Ray. “We had some trouble: the wheels were not properly greased, and there was nothing we could do to get them fixed, and our autonomous mode never really worked. However, we still came in third, which was more than any of us ever hoped for.” The team also went on to win the Inspire Award, one of the most prestigious awards at the event.

Senior Nontthida Pathomsiri said, “Robotics Club was not just a great experience in learning about technology, but also a great bonding experience for all of us.”

Teammate Da Yeong Ko added, “I’ll join Robotics Club again next year. It was an experience I will never forget.”

Team member Jaelyn Pickett summed up the experience: “Robotics Club was super cool. The family atmosphere of the entire competition showed the kind of people FIRST is made up of.”

Sue Nelson is superintendent of education and Pathfinder/SS director for the Dakota Conference. Peter Kenaston is technology director for Dakota Adventist Academy.