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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Two EDHS students on all-female, rookie robotics team

-the “Build a Dream Amazon Warriors” won the provincials and attended the worlds-

EDHS grade nine students Jenna Reaume and Valerie Alexander were a part of the six-person, all female robotics team, “Build a Dream Amazon Warriors.” As part of alliances, the team won the FIRST® Robotics Competition provincials as district champion a few weeks back and, last week, placed 14th in its division at the worlds.

by Sylene Argent

When Essex District High School students Valerie Alexander and Jenna Reaume were approached to join an all-female robotics team, “Build a Dream Amazon Warriors,” they jumped on board not knowing what to expect.

  With an open mind, and a yearn to learn, the two girls did not expect their rookie, six-person team would end up provincial champions, in their district, and place top 14 in their division at the recent worlds championship through the FIRST® Robotics Competition.

  Build a Dream is the organization that organized the team in which the two grade nine students took part. It is an organization that supports women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They created the team name in part to honour the organization.

  Reaume explained she was on a FIRST® Lego League robotics team in grade school but had little to do with building the robot then. When she was recently approached to join the robot-building club, she asked Alexander, a friend, to join with her.

  “I had no experience. I was clueless, but it sounded fun,” Alexander said of her thoughts when she joined the club.

  The girls met their teammates in early October, which consisted of the two grade nine EDHS students, three grade ten students, and one grade 11 student. They also had a “half-member” who was in grade 12 and doubled as a mentor. She was also a part of another team.  

  The other team members study at other regional high schools. One member from Chatham travelled to participate in the club, which they noted was a really big commitment on her part as the team typically practiced twice per week in LaSalle.

  In January, the FIRST® Robotics Competition held its kick off. Reaume explained all participating teams watched the same video at the same time, which explained what would be expected of them this round of competition. After the announcement, the girls met nearly every day for the six weeks to prepare for the upcoming competitions.

  “The level of commitment was amazing. Everyone stepped up and was supportive,” Reaume said.

  From the kick off, the teams had six weeks to design, build, program, and practice with their robot that would complete the expected tasks.

  As there are variations teams could select to build, the biggest piece of advice the Build a Dream Amazon Warriors got was “to think simple. Do one thing and do it really well.”

  That advice proved to be advantageous for the team.

  “We couldn’t do everything we wanted to because we were a rookie team,” Reaume explained. So, the team mates sat down and focused their project on the advice they received and created a small robot that was able to drop blocks or place them through a small opening.

  “At the end, we put it in a giant plastic bag,” Alexander recalled. They were not allowed to have access to the robot until competition days, where they were given six hours to practice or perform any maintenance.

  The Build A Dream Amazon Warriors then competed in Windsor and in Waterloo. They won the Windsor competition as part of an alliance, which consisted of two other teams. Through the qualifying matches, certain high-ranking teams get to select who would be in their alliance. The local all-female team was pleased to get selected.

  They won the event, and as a result, was selected to compete in Mississauga in the provincial competition, which took place April 11-14. As part of another alliance, selected by high-ranking teams, the Build a Dream Amazon Warriors won the provincials as well.

  “It was a big deal,” they noted.  

  “Rookies don’t usually win, and usually don’t go to provincials,” Reaume said, noting when they were a part of the winning alliance, the team mates were thinking, “Did we just really do that?”

  “We were running on pure adrenaline for the past six weeks,” Alexander added, noting that though their team was at a disadvantage as they were all rookie members, their advantage was their ability to keep calm when problems arose. She added the experience was super rewarding as the team members made great contacts and learned a lot.

  Last week, the girls headed to Detroit to compete in the Worlds. Reaume said they placed 14th out of around 70 teams in their division. They finished as a highest rookie seed.

  “To be there for our rookie year was a pretty big deal,” she said.

They did not get selected as part of an alliance this round because of mechanical issues that came up during the course of the competition.

  “We are all just very thankful to have been there and have the experience,” she said, adding they all enjoyed watching the rest of the competition.

  Alexander said she had never really given much thought to STEM fields before joining the team, but now that is something that is always on her mind. “We learned to do so much over the past four months,” she said.

Both EDHS girls have plans on being a part of this team again next year and hope that the exposure of their success this year will attract new members. They would like to get 20 members on the team next year. Some of the teams at the competitions have as many as 60 people, they said.

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