BY KEVIN MERRILL
Two Ottawa Hills students will perform on the world robotics stage later this month. As if that achievement wasn’t significant enough, they are appearing on TWO teams – an almost unheard of accomplishment in the world of youth robotics.
And in their spare time, sophomores Kavita Parikh and Danielle Sun are part of a group lobbying Ohio legislators to add state funding for youth robotics. In preparation for the April 24-27 world championship in Detroit, the girls are fundraising (visit their GoFundMe site).
“I am ecstatic about competing at the FIRST Championship this year,” said Kavita. “It is amazing to see all of our hard work pay off and I am incredibly proud of my team for their dedication that has brought us to this ultimate goal!”
The event calls itself the “world’s largest celebration of STEM activities for students.” It brings together tens of thousands of students from K-12 robotics programs, along with educators, industry professionals, sponsors, and the colleges and universities that support them.
“The excitement and craziness of robotics is an incredible experience that can only be attained by attending the event in person,” Kavita said. She and Danielle are urging Village residents to attend. The event is family friendly with events for kids of all ages, including an Innovation Faire featuring major engineering companies and Scholarship Row, home to the nation’s top colleges.
The FIRST in FIRST Championship is an acronym: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST robotics has four leagues, organized by age and technical difficulty: FIRST LEGO League Jr. (grades K-3), FIRST Lego League (grades 4-8), FIRST Tech Challenge (grades 7-12), and FIRST Robotics Competition (grades 9-12).
This year, Kavita and Danielle were two of seven members of a FIRST Tech Challenge team. They called themselves “Next Nova” and competed throughout the fall and winter at regional and state competitions. Next Nova’s performance at these events qualified them to advance to the world championship. Along the way, Next Nova earned two awards: a second-place “Inspire Award” given for outreach, giving back to the community, and engineering design; and the “Connect” Award” for the team’s engineering relationships within its community.
Looking for an additional challenge, the girls in January joined a newly formed team to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition league. This 24-student team called themselves “Avi and Friends”; their first assignment was to build a 120-pound robot in six weeks. Appearing with their robot at the most recent regional competition in Dayton, the team earned the “Rookie All Star Award” – and advancement to the world championship. That award assessed teams on business planning, robot design and programming, outreach in local communities, presentation “pitch” to judges and professionals in the field; and robotic performance. In addition, it also received a “Rookie Inspiration Award” this year.
“In both competitions, the teams won because of their superior robots and their dedication to the ‘more than robots’ part of this sport,” said Crystal Burnworth who owns and operates the Sylvania STEM Center with her husband, Tom. “It’s been a busy, but extraordinary year.” (The girls’ teams are run through the Center, which is a nonprofit organization. Its student participants come mainly from the Ottawa Hills and Sylvania school districts.)
Kavita has been part of league teams and competitions through the Sylvania STEM Center for three years; Danielle joined two years ago. With that longevity has come leadership positions on their teams. “These young ladies are ambassadors of Women in STEM initiatives,” added Mrs. Burnworth. For example, Kavita and other student leaders from the Center demonstrated their competition robot at the University of Toledo’s Engineering Banquet in February.
Before advancing to the higher leagues, Danielle and Kavita started a FIRST LEGO League team called “The Aisle of Misfit Toys.” It consisted mostly of Ottawa Hills students. That team still exists through the center; it has advanced to the state finals every year since it was founded.
Learn more: Sylvania STEM Center | World Championship at Cobo Center
Video: Danielle was interviewed by The Blade about the upcoming championships