The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 11, 2014

Robotics team takes first-place

Local team gets first among 66 teams

By Edie Schmierbach
The Mankato Free Press

---- — When it comes to shooting hoops, 4-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide Odin plays for a winning team.

The credit for his skills goes to a group of area high-school age students who design robots with help from their mentors.

Odin is the scrappy creation of Nordic Storm, which brought home the winning trophy Saturday from the Lake Superior FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics regional competition in Duluth. Odin and his two teammates were able to dunk a large exercise ball faster than an opposing team could during a contest between student-driven robots.

Nordic Storm beat out 65 other robotics teams and is now eligible for the championship tournament in April in St. Louis. A community-based robotics team, Nordic Storm also is preparing for an upcoming competition in Milwaukee and is anticipating a Minnesota State High School League tournament in May.

FIRST teams are recognized by the MSHSL. There are about 186 FIRST teams in Minnesota; however, only a handful of these are community-based rather than school specific. Nordic Storm’s team includes 19 students and 11 mentors. The youths are enrolled at five area schools in Lake Crystal, St. Peter and Mankato.

Robotics gives youths interested in science and technology “a leg up on other kids” said Nordic Storm’s lead mentor Deb Johnson. She described her team’s activities as a “sport of the mind” in which its members are learning new skills to use later on in fields they plan to study.

“Families are extremely supportive,” Johnson said.

Its sponsors include Medtronics and lots of local businesses, she said. Nordic Team gets lots of support from educators, although the club operates independently from schools. This winter, being community-based has been an advantage. On cold or snowy days when classes were called off, team members got together at their practice room at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

“Whenever it was safe, we were able to meet,” Johnson said.

Some of her teammates meet from 6-9 each week night. Student Gretchen Niederriter of St. Peter has been there at least two nights at week working on team projects.

“It’s lots of fun and something else to challenge me,” she said.

One of the team’s four female members, Niederriter has been with Storm three years. She’s not yet made a career choice.

“Whatever I want to do, what I’ve learned will help,” she said. “It’s more than robotics.”

There’s working with others, communication, learning to budget for projects and how to make a presentation.

As the trip to St. Louis approaches, she expects to spend even more time in the practice room. Fundraising for the championship also will take up lots of their time. Registration for the championship costs $5,000 and that’s just one of the team’s expenses.