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South Valley Journal

Oquirrh Hills only school in district with robotics team

Mar 22, 2019 11:45AM ● By Jet Burnham

The OHMS robotic teams were invited to the Utah State Capitol Building to promote their program to law-makers on Feb. 19. (Photo courtesy Greg Sill)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

At First Tech Challenge competitions, teams of students grades 7–12 test robots they’ve designed and programmed in a challenge course. While many teams are sponsored by technical schools, wealthy school districts or private donors, Oquirrh Hills Middle School is the only school in Jordan District to sponsor a First Tech robotics team. And with a $1500 budget—a mere fraction of the budget some private teams have to play with—they still qualified for the state competition.

“There’s some of these high school groups and private groups that are getting tens of thousands of dollars,” said Todd Monson, robotics team adviser and science teacher at OHMS. “So, for us to be able to make it to state championship is amazing. We’re David and they’re Goliath, but the fact that we’re in the battle is pretty good.”

Monson juggles various grants to fund a new robot each year. A grant from David Ferro, dean of Applied Science and Technology at Weber State University, was awarded to OHMS just two weeks before the qualifier competition in December, allowing Monson to purchase practice equipment and to enter an additional robot into the competition. The first team, the OHMS Shockers, didn’t advance due to a malfunction, but the Robo Eagles moved on to state on Feb. 23 to finish 25th out of 36 teams, the highest ranked middle school division team.

“A lot of this is the confidence that Mr. Monson instills in the kids,” said Greg Sill, a parent volunteer on the team. “Also we have had some good alliance pairings in the competitions where we have helped each other to move forward.”

Sill said with a school-sponsored team, time and funds are limited, so designs and programming are simplified to focus on a few basic tasks that will earn them the most points.

“If you try to do too much, it makes it harder to get it all working together,” he said. “Teams with more experience have the ability to solve that extra step.”

Of course, winning isn’t everything. The skills students gain in collaboration, problem solving and confidence will help them for the rest of their lives, believes Monson.

“Gracious Professionalism” is the philosophy of First Tech.

“Gracious professionalism means you play well, you lose well, you work together well—all those good sportsmanship aspects,” said Sill.

OHMS robotics students have had their share of setbacks, disappointments, malfunctions, failures and disasters.

Hanna Evans, an eighth-grader on the team, said they’ve learned to stay calm and work through problems as they arise.

“We know that if we’re stressed, we know it’s probably not going to work out as well,” she said. “So, if we calm down and we figure out how we can work on it together, then more people have better ideas and we can problem-solve.”

Jacob Little, a seventh-grader on the team, helps his teammates try to find the humor when things go wrong because in the end, it’s about having fun.

Eighth-grader Dylan Ramos agrees. “We all enjoy the company of each other and working on the robot,” he said.

The team members meet twice a week after school. Monson relies on help from Sill, who volunteered to help mentor while his three sons were on the team and has continued even though none of them are on the team anymore.

“I could not do this without his help,” said Monson. “He’s amazing with the kids and tremendous as a parent volunteer to help me out as much as he does.”

Monson is passionate about the program and makes it a priority in his already full schedule.

“It's worth it,” he said. “That’s my investment into their future and my future as well. Maybe one of them is going to engineer a device that’s going to fix my knee someday or something like that.” 

Because of Monson’s efforts to support and promote the robotics team as well as the OHMS Science Olympiad team, he was named Utah STEM Action Center’s Innovative Teacher of the Year for 2018–2019. 

The OHMS robotics program is always looking for sponsors. Donations are accepted through the Jordan Education Foundation.