Columbus Academy's Avalanche robotics team recently won the FIRST Tech Challenge Columbus Qualifying Tournament and will advance to the state match Saturday, Feb. 15, at the iSpace Center in Cincinnati.
FIRST Tech Challenge is designed for students in grades 7-12, engaging them in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Teams are responsible for designing, building and programming robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams.
During the Jan. 25 state qualifier contest at the Wellington School, 28 teams from three states competed. Academy's squad finished third in the individual round-robin tournament and advanced to the semifinal round, where teams formed alliances with two other teams. Academy's alliance won its best-of-three semifinal matches 2-0 and then won in the finals 2-1.
As a winning team, members will advance to the FTC Ohio Championship Tournament.
The Avalanche team comprises Thomas DeVore of Westerville, teacher and mentor; and seniors Micah King of Columbus, co-lead programmer; Seva Luchianov of Delaware, lead builder and co-lead programmer; and Connie Zhang of Dublin, captain. Other senior teammates are Evan Alexander of New Albany; Brianna Johnson-King of Pataskala; Abby Kaye of Gahanna; Gavin Koerner of Gahanna; Brian Korda of Gahanna; Connor Nelson of New Albany; Zach Shepelak of Westerville; and Grayson Wise of Powell.
Underclassmen, including sophomores and freshmen, are Ketan Argawal of Gahanna; Raymond Cao of New Albany; Jasmine Lee of New Albany; Alex Lichen of New Albany; Sid Menon of Dublin; Jayson Preza of Columbus; and Varun Vallebhaneni of Gahanna.
Zhang founded the team in 2012, when only four students were involved.
"It was rough the first year, and we had to overcome many obstacles such as finances, lack of experience, no space to work and few members," she said. "We did complete our robot and compete, which was an achievement in itself."
The team has grown to 18 students, with 11 from a senior elective class and seven from the underclassmen student body.
"Our growth has been amazing," Zhang said. "We are working toward establishing ourselves beyond a club and more of a team. We have had a lot of support from our school and our sponsor, Three-C Body Shops. Without their support, we wouldn't have been able to make it to state."
She said the team has been fantastic.
"It has definitely been a group effort, with everyone contributing to our success," Zhang said. "We don't have many formal titles or a lot of rules; everyone contributes how they know best, and it works."
Nelson said he's proud of how the team has worked closely together to accomplish all that it has thus far.
"I believe this is a great start for us, as a robotics program at Columbus Academy, with many more successful years in the future," he said. "I believe this team and our robot have a great chance at winning states next weekend."
Zhang said the team has established an outreach program for middle school students to introduce them to programming.
A website, academyrobotics.com, has been launched, featuring tutorials from which other FTC teams could learn.
The team also designed T-shirts, created presentations and documented everything in an engineering notebook.
"At the end of fall, we decided to start a program to engage more middle school girls in technology," Zhang said. "We began the Women in STEM program to teach girls to program, emphasizing the FTC values of gracious professionalism."