WildStangs Win! D214 students and robot advance to world competition
Robots may- or may not - someday rule the world. In the meantime, designing and operating them for crowd-pleasing competition provide multifaceted and high-value learning for high school students.
District 214 students have been demonstrating that for 28 years through the district's WildStang Robotics teams, two of which competed and one of which captured first place on March 11 in the Midwest Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC).
All of the designing, engineering, problem-solving, project management and collaboration required to build and operate robots were on display during the regionals and will be again as D214's iconic Team 111 advances this spring to more regional competition - this time in Wisconsin - and then the World Championship in Houston.
The common thread of each year's competition is that students and professional engineering mentors build robots: big robots, up to 6 feet tall and 150 pounds. Students design, fabricate and program these robots with the ability to move around on a playing surface, pick up objects with their arms and score by dropping the objects into a goal. Each year, competition organizers unveil a new challenge, which means that each year's team must begin its work from square one.
If this sounds like excellent preparation for higher education studies and careers in STEM fields, it is. Head coach Nick Strzeleck and mentors Mark Kosirog, Jamie Beedy, and Filip Dudic lead the two District 214 teams - Team 111, composed of juniors and seniors, and Team 112, consisting of freshmen and sophomores. The program attracts a wide range of participants.
Mark Koch, a retired District 214 teacher who now serves as program coordinator, said: "Of 75 kids in the program, I'd say two-thirds want to go into a career in science or engineering or technology of some kind. About one third say, 'I love this (WildStang work). And I want to be an English major.'"
Regardless of their career goals, WildStang team members represent student effort and learning at their best.
"They're self-motivated. They're inquisitive. They're bright," Koch said of the students.
Koch is equally complimentary of the professional engineers who mentor WildStang members and the parent-run WildStang Robotics Support Association, which provides a wide array of logistical support.
The WildStang Team began during the 1995-96 school year as a partnership between Motorola Solutions and Wheeling and Rolling Meadows high schools. The WildStang name was selected by students as a mashup of the Wheeling Wildcats and the Rolling Meadows Mustangs.
Globally, participation has grown from about 50 teams when WildStangs was formed to more than 3,500 today. In District 214, students from all six comprehensive high schools compete, and the effort is still sponsored, in part, by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.
While interest in the competition has grown exponentially, the student enthusiasm that characterized the earliest WildStang teams remains the same.
"I tell people that what I see in this program is why I got into education," Koch said. "It's almost like 'Get out of the way' because the kids are so excited about what they're doing that they're going to make everything happen."