Niles-based robotics team producing engineers

Members of the Niles Area Home School Team, left, discuss strategy with the Niles-based Team Excel, in the blue shirts, prior to the first match of the day. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

Members of the Niles Area Home School Team, left, discuss strategy with the Niles-based Team Excel, in the blue shirts, prior to the first match of the day. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

ST. JOSEPH — Robotics isn’t just a hobby for the mentally gifted.

In many cases, it can act as a springboard into a rewarding career in the engineering and manufacturing fields.

Some of the area’s biggest companies act as sponsors for local robotics teams and events, including the Michigan FIRST Robotics district competition that took place Friday and Saturday at St. Joseph High School.

The event featured approximately 40 teams comprised of area high school students, including ones from Niles, Buchanan, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Cassopolis communities.

Team Excel — a Berrien RESA team that practices in Niles — has been one of the area’s most successful teams over the past several years.

It has also produced a few success stories.

Rick Miller, who has mentored the team since 2008, said three former team members — Aaron Stewart, Spencer Miller and John Stewart — are currently working in the engineering field. Aaron Stewart and Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Notre Dame, while John Stewart is a Western Michigan University grad.

Rick Miller credits their involvement on the robotics team with their success.

“They would not have gone into engineering if it wasn’t for this program,” he said.

Another of the team’s mentors, Matt Sergio, of Niles, is in the process of earning a certificate in Mechatronics from Southwestern Michigan College. He said it would allow him to design and maintain industrial robots — an interest that developed during the five years he spent as a member of the robotics team.

“The hands-on experience was the biggest thing… it had a huge impact,” he said.

This year’s FIRST Robotics competition required teams to build a robot capable of capturing another team’s tower, which could be weakened by boulders thrown by the robots.

The competition changes from year to year and teams have a certain amount of time in which they can build their robot.

The event at St. Joseph was just one of many scheduled to take place throughout the state during this year’s season, which runs through April.

 

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