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Alumni donation helps Brown organize Cedar Bots

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HARTINGTON — The rise of the machines has started at Cedar Catholic High School.

Thanks to a monetary donation by 1966 graduate Marilyn Sudbeck of Broomfield, Colo., Cedar Catholic has established a new robotics program for the 2021-22 academic year.

Principal Chris Uttecht put science teacher Lowell Brown in charge of the class because of Brown’s background in establishing robotics programs at three other Nebraska schools.

“This whole project has fouled up my retirement plan,” Brown said with a laugh.

In all seriousness, he was happy to have the opportunity to start another robotics program after having been previously in charge of three successful ones in O’Neill, Santee and Winnebago.

Nine students have joined Cedar Catholic’s initial robotics class in its first year: seniors Parker Albers, Conner Hochstein, Kurtis Kathol, Aiden Lammers, Elena Paltz; junior Jack Stevens; and freshmen Christian Fiscus, Nicholas Payne and Brett Stevens.

Brown has divided the nine students into three teams: Kathol, Paltz and Brett Stevens; Albers, Lammers and Payne; and Fiscus, Hochstein and Jack Stevens.

“This group that I have here, I knew they’d be good at it,” Brown said. “I had to talk them into the program. I’ve got people wanting in next year. It’s blossomed that much already.”

Instead of making the new Cedar Bots robotics program an after-school or weekend activity, Cedar Catholic turned it into a daily class as part of regular curriculum for students.

The school’s robotics program competes in the Northwest Iowa League of the FIRST Tech Challenge - Iowa organization.

According to the international FTC organization’s website, “FIRST Tech Challenge students learn to think like engineers. Teams design, build and code robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams.” The alliance format means each of Brown’s three

The alliance format means each of Brown’s three teams have work together with three other squads - usually from different schools - to try and win at each league meet.

Adult coaches and mentors guide students as they develop STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - skills and practice engineering principles.

Sudbeck, a retired certified public accountant, described herself as a big believer in STEM and language skills.

“My original idea was for the money to be donated to something in the computer world,” she said.

When Sudbeck heard about Brown’s background in robotics, she encouraged Cedar Catholic to go in that direction.

“I’d rather have him do something he’s really interested in than something he’s slightly interested in,” she said.

Sudbeck visited her alma mater in early October and was pleased to see what Brown’s students were doing during robotics class.

“I was pretty impressed,” she said. “The kids at Cedar Catholic are really smart. They don’t realize how smart they are.”

Brown noted his students have learned about the value of cooperation, hard work, innovation, professionalism and teamwork thanks to the FIRST Tech Challenge.

“That’s why I knew these guys would be good at it,” Brown said. “Their behavior is above and beyond everyone else’s at a competition.

“They are so well-behaved and know what they’re trying to accomplish that I’ve never worried about taking them anywhere,” he said.

Cedar Catholic’s three Cedar Bots teams have competed at three league meets in Iowa already this school year: Sioux City East High School on Nov. 20, Trinity High School in Hull on Dec. 4 and Hinton Elementary School on Dec. 18.

Their next event will be the Northwest Iowa League Championship Tournament Event on Saturday, Jan. 22, at Central Lyon High School in Rock Rapids, Iowa.

Brown noted the top eight teams out of the 36 who compete at the league championship will qualify for the FIRST Tech Challenge Iowa Championship on Feb. 18 in Coralville, Iowa.

“It’s an absolute nightmare the first year because they don’t appreciate how complex the competitions are,” he said. “They don’t until you get there and see it - how it really happens. Because when we went to the first one, their eyes lit up like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Brown’s students have been taking away knowledge from the various robotics competitions they have gone to.

Albers has learned that taking a slow approach can be advantageous when practicing with and programming a robot.

“When we’ve tried to rush it, we just come off regretting the stuff that we did and have to go back further than we would be,” he said.

Lammers has come to understand that in robotics, if at first you do not succeed, keep trying until you get it right.

“I’ve definitely learned that your ideas aren’t going to work a lot,” he said. “Sometimes, you’re going to need to redo it a few times to get to the right spot.”

Brown has been impressed with how serious his students have become about the Cedar Bots program, oftentimes staying through their school lunch break to continue working.

While his students take Cedar Catholic’s robotics class seriously, they also enjoy working on their machines and competing at the league meets.

“I just like the building part of it,” Albers said. “It’s really fun. You get to work through all your problems. It’s like school kind of learning, but it’s in a different environment. I find it quite enjoyable.”

Lammers echoed Albers’ sentiments.

“I enjoy just building the robot because it’s a lot of fun to kind of work through problems and come up with ideas for what’s going to work,” Lammers said.

Paltz also has enjoyed being part of the Cedar Bots program.

“It’s always really good when you’ve been working on a problem for a while and you finally find what’s wrong with it and you fix it and it works perfectly,” she said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Brown has tried to be handsoff as much as possible to let his students learn and solve problems as they do their robotics work, though he will suggest ideas from time to time.

“I’ve done it so many times now, but I don’t want to give them too much because otherwise they’d want me to do everything,” he said. “I do find myself down on my hands and knees in there once in a while.”

Brown has considered his

Court cases

Ronald Willers Jr., 57, Norfolk, third-degree assault, disturbing the peace, seven days in jail, 18 months of probation, costs. Joseph Schieffer, 56, Crof

Joseph Schieffer, 56, Crofton, driving under the influence of alcohol-first offense, six months of probation, license revoked for 60 days, costs.

Jessie Underwood, 19, Coleridge, disturbing the peace, six months of probation, 25 hours of community service, costs.

Jordan Deblauw, 26, Hartington, use of hand-held wireless communication device while driving, $200 fine, costs.

Marlowe Sudbeck, 54, Hartington, driving under suspension, $100 fine, costs.

Wayne Boswell, 34, O’Neill, no operator’s license, $50 fine, costs.

Shawna Flemming, 45, Yankton, S.D., no operator’s license, $50 fine, costs.

Yefry Mateo Cortes, 23, Norfolk, fishing regulation violation, $50 fine, liquidated damages of $3,000, costs.

Karl Koch, 60, Hartington, hunting wildlife with artificial light, $250 fine, costs.

Julie Swanson, 57, Laurel, speeding, $75 fine, costs.

Ashley Eifert, 23, Coleridge, speeding, $75 fine, costs.

Shelby Herley, 18, Norfolk, speeding, $75 fine, costs.

Miranda Holcomb, 18, Lincoln, speeding, $75 fine, costs.

Jason D. Miller, 29, Coleridge, stop sign violation, $75 fine, costs.

Scott L. Wilson, 64, Mission Hill, S.D., speeding, $25 fine, costs.

Joshua E. Thompson, 36, Lisco, commercial vehicle hours of service log false, $200 fine, costs.

Ryan Guthmiller, 29, Yankton, S.D., violation of load contents requirement, $100 fine, costs.

Harrison Hawley, 32, Burbank, S.D., overweight axles-two counts, overweight capacity plates, $300 fine, costs. Allen Nick, 32, Alexandria, Minn.,

Allen Nick, 32, Alexandria, Minn., overweight axles, $25 fine, costs. Patrick Stahl, 48, Sioux Falls,

Patrick Stahl, 48, Sioux Falls, S.D., commercial drivers license restriction violation, overweight axles, $200 fine, costs.

Luke Vanderley, 36, New Holland, S.D., overweight group of axles-two counts, overweight capacity plates, $475 fine, costs.

Francis Weston, 23, Breda, Iowa, overweight group of axles-two counts, overweight capacity plates, commercial vehicle tire violation, $550 fine, costs.

Luke McDermott, 36, Grand Island, failure to stop and weigh, $50 fine, costs.

Lukas Grobler, 19, Toronto, S.D., commercial vehicle driver age violation, $25 fine, costs. role with the Cedar Bots program more as a coach and mentor than a teacher.

“Sometimes we have a personality issue or two in there once in a while, which happens,” he said. “They’re just kids. That’s where that teamwork and cooperation thing comes in. They’re doing a great job.”

Albers has been able to balance being serious about the robotics labor with enjoying the process of working with classmates and programming a robot.

“I would encourage anybody to do this,” he said. “I enjoy it, and I didn’t think I would that much going in, but it’s fun.” Taking part in Cedar

Taking part in Cedar Catholic’s robotics class has fed into Lammers’ interest in pursuing a STEM career in the future, such as electrical engineering.

“It’s kind of nice to able to do this in high school before that,” he said.

Paltz has always been interested in computer coding and seeing how she can make something operate by itself.

“I figured this is a good way to stick my foot in the door and see what it’s like,” she said.

Brown expressed his excitement about the future of the

Cedar Bots program, especially because of the student demand to join.

“It takes them outside of the classroom, if you will,” Brown said. “They love this hands-on stuff. When they can take that computer ability to drive that thing, their eyes light up. You can use this thing for something besides games.

“We’ve talked about robots in surgery now, and robots and Amazon, AI (artificial intelligence) in cars, and where this whole thing can lead to,” he said. “They’re starting to understand that a little bit.”

FIRST Tech Challenge

For the 2021-22 school year, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Tech Challenge has been having robotics teams explore the future of transportation.

The name of the challenge this year is “Freight Frenzy.” Teams and their robots must navigate a complex transportation system by traversing barriers and racing against time to load and deliver essential items to those who need them most.

For more information on the challenge, visit www.firstinspires. org.