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NHS all-girl robotics team impresses in debut

The eight-member, all-rookie team qualifies for the state tourney at its first-ever competition


PORTLAND — Although many of the students who guided the Newberg High School Tiger Team robotics squad to consecutive appearances at the First Tech Challenge World Championships the last two years are gone, the program appears to be in excellent shape.

Not only has the school fielded four times for the first time, but it has also seen the formation of its first all-girls group, the Iron Men.

Despite the fact that all eight members are first-timers to robotics competition, the group won the Think Award (engineering log) and received the second-place Inspire Award (overall) in its first-ever competition Jan. 11 at OMSI. Because the team that took first overall, the Absentminded Geniuses from Glide High School, had already qualified for the state tournament, the Iron Men got the state bid.by: SETH GORDON - Iron Men - Jessica Stone and Aurora McCollum work on their robot, Jarvis, at Newberg High School on Friday. Stone and McCollum are two members of the all-girl, all-rookie ‘Iron Men' team, which qualified Jan. 11 for the First Tech Challenge robotics state tournament in their first ever event at OMSI in Portland.

Though teacher Terry Coss is quick to point out that all eight students have taken at least one course in computer programming, computer assisted drafting, robotics, welding or computer integrated manufacturing, it was still an impressive debut performance.

While Newberg’s three other teams — Tiger Team 6712, Team Aeterna and Team Underscore — all advanced to the semifinals, the Iron Men ranked No. 12 out of 13 teams in the robot competition, making their high finish even more improbable.

“We didn’t place well in the actual competition, so we were really shocked,” senior Aurora McCollum said. “We expected to get one of the awards, but we didn’t win the award we expected to.”

The Iron Men, a name that makes more sense when you swap out Iron for its chemical notation for Iron, Fe, have benefited from the tutelage of NHS graduate and former robotics competitor Brennan VandenHoek.

“We really appreciate him,” McCollum said. “He’s competed a lot in the past, so he knows a lot more. He definitely helps us out a lot as a rookie team.”

The team consists of McCollum, seniors Hannah Hetzler and Nashmy Luna, juniors Zoe Vanderwater, Jessica Stone and Naivit Velazquez, and freshmen Jull DuBois and Riley Woodland, who have found working together comes pretty naturally.

Like the three other NHS teams, the Iron Men have used the high school’s facilities to manufacture the parts for their robot, “Jarvis,” where as many teams in the state have to rely upon pre-made “tetris” sets.

“Most of the teams don’t have the machine shop we do,” Coss said. “We have one of the few machine shops left in the state, unfortunately. We’re in good shape.”

All four teams will return to competition Saturday at Tigard High School. While the Iron Men can now focus solely on tweaking their design and improving their driving skills, the three other teams will focus on qualifying for the state tournament, which will be held March 2 at Benson High School in Portland.

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