Lacombe Composite High School’s (LCHS) robotics club, the United Robotics of Lacombe (URL) has been growing by leaps and bounds.
The world-class, competitive robot building team has attended world championships, mentors other junior robotics teams and continues to reach well past being just a school club into real life situations.
Now that they’ve graduated and are attending post-secondary institutions, Riley Derksen, EJ Aquino, Xiangnan Xue and Curtis Woods, former URL members, see the real life application of robotics. They see the club not only as an outlet to meet other students who have like interests, but as a true bonding experience.
Aquino said that he and Woods joined the club when they were in Grade 10.
“We were just friends trying to do something new,” he said. “We didn’t really know much at first, but the Grade 12s at the time showed us.”
He added that over the years, each competition they attended seemed to have more competitors.
“On our first year, there were only eight teams,” he said. “At the second competition there were 12 teams. Now there will be 40-plus teams.”
Aquino is enrolled in veterinary medicine, but he still sees a definitive connection between the world of robotics and his choice of study.
“Some people think it’s not really connected to animals, but it’s prepared me how to solve problems at that exact moment,” he said. “It keeps me on my feet, and helps me to think really fast to solve a problem and also assists with communicating with people.”
Woods said the club was a hands-on representation of the theoretical engineering skills he is currently learning at the University of Calgary.
“We learned a lot of things dealing with forces and circuits and how all of these things work,” he said. “But it wasn’t until I actually went into the robotics club that I had a hands-on opportunity to use these skills. I actually saw a connection from these to how it would actually work in industry.
“They keep trying to give us these messages and now that we are at university and trying to apply them, I found because I was in the robotics club a lot of it is already there. I already see these connections.”
Derksen added that at NAIT he is studying more hands-on stuff, but he still needs to use many of the skills he learned in the club.
“We had to put together an engineering book,” he said. “I still need to do that now. We still have to do all of these problem-solving tasks for our projects and put together stuff like we did in robotics. It has really helped me complete my program.”
Xue agrees that participating in the club has been a worthwhile experience as it has helped him understand theories he’s now learning in an engineering program.
“The practical application in robotics has helped me to understand the theory,” he said. “More importantly robotics really opens our eyes to the future. It prepares us for the future.”
Staff mentor Warren Kreway became involved with the club four years ago. He said the club has grown from 20 students to around 40.
“The excitement is growing tremendously,” he said. “It’s helping the older generation to think out of the box a little and challenge themselves along the way.
“The thing that we can all attest to is the family atmosphere that we have built. That’s what makes the club work. That’s what keeps it going – the bond is beyond the school.”
Kreway said the club has expanded to mentoring younger students in junior high and elementary school with Lego. Now the club has partnered with Red Deer College with an advanced program called Mechatronics.
“We are hoping that by incorporating the younger groups, that by the time they get to high school, they will be leaps and bounds ahead in knowledge to excel at this,” said Kreway. “So who knows where they will go from there.”
During a recent lunchtime robotic competition at LCHS on Feb. 26th, the current 40-plus members of URL showcased their mechanical prowess to their fellow students.
Team Captain Cassandra Payne’s robot may have had some adjustments to make during the showcase, but as the first female captain in the club, she said the club is full of opportunities.
“It gives a us big opportunity to meet people,” she said. “There is a very big variety of teams at the FTC competition and at the past VEX competition, there were teams from all over the Canada.”
Fellow club member Chase Bailey agrees with Payne that the big draw for joining the club is the people.
“You don’t just make friends here,” he said. “You make family.”