The Emerson Challengers advanced to the Ohio For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Lego League state championship Feb. 1 and 2 for the first time in three seasons.

The Challengers is a third-year FIRST Lego League team consisting of seven current and former students of Emerson Elementary School, with all joining the team as Emerson students and many continuing to participate after they moved to middle school, said Jeffrey Miltko, who coaches the team with Beth Dalin.

FIRST is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics education nonprofit.

Although the team didn't advance at the state contest, Miltko said, it received the Coopertition award that emphasizes "displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition," per the FIRST website, for the second time this season.

Coopertition is a blend of cooperation and competition, Miltko said.

Team members include Helen Ghitescu and Lincoln Haman, Emerson fifth-graders; Ali Washburn, a Blendon Middle School sixth-grader; Addie Gurgiolo, a Heritage Middle School sixth-grader; Adam Kauh and Evan Pate, Walnut Springs Middle School seventh-graders; and Luke Haman, a Walnut Springs eighth-grader.

Miltko, an Emerson third-grade teacher in the gifted-education program, said the team practices anywhere from two to eight hours a week after school, focusing on the four components of the program: an innovation project, robot design, robot game and core values.

"In short, they spend their time coding, engineering, working cooperatively and solving real-world problems," he said.

The team's innovation project this year is the Solar Light Bike Box.

To meet this year's theme of City Shaper, which asked students to define a problem in their community and devise a solution, they designed a lighting system for Westerville's bicycle paths, Miltko said.

It consists of a series of LED lamps powered by solar panels and activated by a pressure-plate system that would be installed in the path itself.

"They have a number of design iterations, from initial sketches to a 3D-printed model and finally a full-size prototype," Miltko said. "They have shared their project with members of the Westerville electric division and the parks and recreation department, as well as city council member Diane Conley, all of whom gave them feedback that they used to improve their solution."

"It means a lot to get to states," Gurgiolo said. "We really worked hard and achieved the goal that we made."

Ghitescu said it's really special to be part of a team that accomplished so much in so little time.

"My favorite part of the season was probably being involved with the robot and doing so much programming," Washburn said. "I think that working on the robot game was very fun. It was fun to try to do so many missions."

She said the most challenging part was trying to do so many missions in 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

"I also think that finding out what our project was going to be and to come up with a problem was very challenging," Washburn said. " I had so much fun this season and am looking forward to next season."

Kauh said it was great to see the team's work pay off at the competitions.

The season started in August, and each year the team attends a regional-qualifying event in December.

"This was the first year that we have advanced from that first-round qualifier," Miltko said.

The regional qualifier was held Dec. 7 at New Albany Intermediate School, where the team placed in the top four out of 12 teams, and also earned the Coopertition award for helping another team whose laptop was malfunctioning.

The district qualifier, the second round, was Jan. 11 at Dublin Jerome High School, where the team placed in the top nine out of 24 teams to move on to the state championship.

Miltko said FLL is a partnership between FIRST and Lego. The team uses Lego Mindstorms parts to build a robot, which interacts with Lego mission models, but everything is centered around a themed STEM project, he said.

"There is also a significant emphasis on teams following what FIRST calls their core values -- discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun -- and their philosophies of gracious professionalism and Coopertition," Miltko said.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla