University of Alaska Anchorage Robotics the sole Alaska team to go to World Championship

    UAA Robotics team (Photo courtesy of Jenn Goonan/The REC Foundation)

    Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation’s 16th annual VEX Robotics World Championship will be back in Dallas to showcase the talent of student competitors from Apr. 25 to May 4.

    Students from around the globe compete year-round to qualify for this event with the goal of being crowned world champions. This year University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) students are the only team in Alaska who will be attending. It's also UAA's first time attending a world championship.

    There are a total of 20 students on the team, and they will be sending 5 down to compete in person; Mya Schroder, Micah Sheldon, Antonio Pennell, Anthony Van Weel, and Jet (John) Lastimoso.

    While the full competition runs from Apr. 25 to May 4, UAA will be competing from Apr. 27 through 29.

    Mya Schroder, President, and Jaren Ramirez, Treasurer for UAA Robotics, talked with News of the North about the competition. Schroder first explained how they were invited to the championship.

    "There are a couple of ways to qualify. The first way is to do well in the competition and get a winning invitation to World. The second way is to do really well in what's called skills challenges, which is like a ranking of your team," she said. "Then the third way, which we qualified for is through REC challenges. So the one we did was the Girl Powered challenge where we wrote a visual essay about how we're being inclusive of women, encouraging them in STEM, and we won that challenge and that got us an invitation to World."

    Schroder also explained how their team will compete.

    "Every team brings two robots and we compete in two-minute matches against other teams. So the first sort of round of competition is just like a sort of regular pool round where most of the teams compete against each other and then that determines where we rank in the qualifications and where we're placed in sort of the brackets," Schroder said.

    Ramirez added that after that they fall into elimination rounds.

    As a first-time "rookie" team, the students are excited about this rare opportunity. Both of them shared that they have learned something from each previous contest to take with them to the championship.

    "I learned so many things at the last competition. We were going against many very well-known universities. A big one who ended up helping me out was a team from Auburn who I ended up learning quite a lot of information from about how they keep their positioning," Ramirez said. "It was actually really, really cool to get a lot of that hands-on experience from a lot of people who've been doing this for many years."

    Schroder added that she is excited to learn new things from this experience as well.

    "I'm really excited for World because there's going to be a huge amount of international teams. I think there's over 50 states and 30 countries that will be at World over the different high schools, middle schools, and colleges," she shared. "In the college competition, we'll be competing against 100 teams, so there's just so many opportunities to learn from them."

    The UAA Robotics team is working on a reliable autonomous code. They are excited to see how that fares in the competition.

    Schroder touched on how a lot of teams struggle with the autonomous code and she's hoping theirs will give them "a leg up" in the championship.

    While Ramirez won't be attending in person due to finals, he still has a challenging job: programming the robot.

    He said it is his first time programming a robot. He's been on the Robotics team for a year, and he shared that keeping good relative positioning is a challenge.

    "I've been discovering quite a lot of challenges when it comes to programming anything in the robotics world, you find out that it's actually really, really hard to keep real-world positioning. For our competition. It's 45 seconds autonomous. So have 45 seconds where the robot has to act on its own to get the points and we get this thing called an autonomous wind point. The autonomous wind point can have massive benefits for us towards our rankings. But the problem that I have found is that keeping real-world positioning with your robot is really difficult because the robot doesn't actually care where it's at," he said. "It just has to think that it's in the right position. But that doesn't always directly translate into the real world. So you have to really start thinking about how do I make sure I'm correcting these problems that we could be having where the robot might think it's over at X, but it's actually at Y. How do I account for things like that?"

    Ramirez added that he's been taking statistics over the course of this year. A lot of the concepts he has learned in statistics are applicable to this situation.

    "Some teams to keep position literally rammed their robot into a wall, because it's really hard to know where you're at but if you ram yourself into a wall you know you're 90 degrees from whatever wall you're hitting," he commented. "There's a lot of ideas I want to start trying out on how we're going to actually be doing this. It'll be fun to see how it performs because I won't directly be there."

    (Photo courtesy of Jenn Goonan/The REC Foundation)

    Reflecting back on how their team was first accepted through the Girl Powered challenge, a visual essay about how UAA Robotics encourages women to participate in STEM, Schroder was asked how their Robotics Team engages with STEM.

    "Besides just building the robots and programming, that's very STEM heavy, but as a team, we really try to bring that to the community as well. So we like to go to elementary STEM nights and bring our robots. It's just so cool to see little kids, like have fun driving robots, and maybe they decide to go into that one day," she said. "Also, this semester, we've also collaborated with the Society of Women Engineers to host a couple of workshops for UAA students; things like learning how to 3D print and how to solder. I just think it's fun, sharing that with the community."

    With a laugh, Ramirez built team captain Schroder up; he said that if there's a STEM opportunity, she makes sure they will be there.

    "She loves to really ensure that we make sure we hit every single possible outreach event out there. If there's a STEM Day any STEM day, any STEM event, we're probably there," he said. "It's really been really cool to see a lot of these events we've been able to attend and see all these like younger kids be really really interested in the robots we have to offer."

    STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

    By their rough estimates, through STEM outreach events, UAA Robotics has reached 400 youth, 200 guardians, and 60 UA students.

    Schroder gave insight into why she first joined robotics two years ago.

    "Right after the pandemic, we were finally back in person. I just wanted to try all of the STEM clubs. I just dove in, and robotics happened to be one of them. Then I found something that I felt I could have an impact on, and that could have an impact on me in turn," she said. "This year I've met so many amazing people."

    In trying to decide what school club to join, Ramirez noted he was already interested in computer system engineering and robotics seemed to fit that. He went to an event and decided to ask Schroder about the Robotics Club, not knowing she was the club president. She asked him right then and there to sign the papers.

    "It turned out to probably be one of the best experiences of my life. This robotics club has really changed a lot of things for me in my life. It's been really fantastic getting these opportunities I never would have been able to do otherwise, getting to meet these really great and smart people on this team," he said.

    Both Schroder and Ramirez highlighted how REC has been helpful in including Alaska's needs and coordinating this interview. They said they value the effort REC puts into keeping base with their sole Alaska competing team.

    The REC Foundation has the largest robotics community in the world, comprised of over 1.1 million students.

    Schroder mentioned that they have also had support from the College of Engineering. They provided the students with a room to do robotics and are open to questions about fundraising.

    "Our advisor, Dr. Heidari, the Dean of the Department, Dr. Mock., Kim Riggs, our building manager, they're just so supportive and we really, really value that," Schroder said.

    The REC Foundation’s VEX Robotics World Championship 2023 is presented by the Northrop Grumman Foundation. Other global sponsors that support the program year-round and this event include: Google, NASA, Tesla, Microchip, MathWorks, T-Mobile, USAF Special Warfare, Kettering University, PTC, Texas Instruments, and Fusion IRX.

    More information about this event can be found at

    (Photo courtesy of Jenn Goonan/The REC Foundation)

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