Students gain valuable experience and knowledge through Science Olympiad

In its second year at VASJ, the Science Olympiad team has grown in both numbers and achievements. Part of the team’s growth is related to this year’s expansion to include the Robot Arm.

“I was looking for ways to include more students, and I thought Engineering students would do well with one of the building events,” says Science Olympiad Coach and VASJ teacher Lucy Kulbago

She asked VASJ’s Engineering teacher Gary Minadeo ’74 if his classes could take it on as a long-term project.

“Lucy asked me to take on the Robot Arm with my Engineering 3/4 students, Javari Hines ’17, and Bryan Williams, Jr. ’18, and they agreed to take it on,” says VASJ teacher Gary Minadeo. 

It was an easy “yes” for senior Javari Hines, who was looking to gain as much exposure and experience in the field of engineering before graduating and heading to college. 

“I always like trying to test different engineering fields so this was a chance to work with two different engineering fields at once to see what I am most interested in,” Javari says. 

Javari and Bryan gained a great deal of electrical and computer engineering knowledge throughout the process. 

None of that experience would have been possible if Minadeo hadn’t found the necessary resources and support for the new venture. 

His first call was to Rick Pollack, president of MakerGear (who also provided the school with 3D printers) to see if he had anyone on staff familiar with Robot Arms. Pollack put Minadeo in touch with Kyle Granat, an electrical engineer he had recently hired who also had Robot Arm experience. 

“Kyle volunteered time two to three days per week, before going to work, teaching the students how to assemble and program the arm,” says Minadeo. “Without Kyle and his dedication to the project we would not have been able to compete.”

Another necessity for competing was to purchase the robotic arm kit. Alumnus Roger Sustar '61, Fredon CEO, agreed to provide the funds. Once the kit arrived, it required design modifications in order to be competition-ready. Tim McCord '68, CEO of Heisler Tool (who also sponsors VASJ’s two robotics teams) agreed to help in this area. 

The kit arrived in January and Javari and Bryan spent every class period for over two months working with the robotic arm and preparing for competition. This included assembling the Robot Arm and learning how to use the software that allows the arm to move. 

The assembling of the robot was the easy part. The coding of the robot was more complex.

“Once you got into the coding of the software of the robot that is when it became more difficult because you had to understand the software to get the robot to do what you wanted it to do,” Javari says. 

What they wanted the arm to do was move five stacks of 10 pennies from five different locations to the center of a target. And they only had two, three-minute attempts to do it. 

After months of preparation, VASJ’s Science Olympiad team completed its season by attending the Case Western Reserve Regional Competition. 

“The Robot Arm event finished fourth place out of 23 teams, which is a great accomplishment,” says Kulbago. 

Science Olympiad combines competitive events in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and provides students with an active, hands-on way to learn and grow these skills.

“The Science Olympiad provides students involved with the opportunity to further their love for science in a fun, competitive environment,” says VASJ Principal David Csank.

Science Olympiad teams function much like an athletic team, requiring preparation, commitment, coaching and practice throughout the year in order to compete against other schools at invitational, regional, state, and national competitions.

There are 23 different events at a Science Olympiad competition and Robot Arm is just one of 23 events. VASJ’s team also competed Astronomy, Anatomy, Chemistry Lab, Experimental Design, Hydrogeology, Rocks and Minerals, Optics, Wind Power, Disease Detective, and Towers. 

In addition to Javari and Bryan, VASJ’s Science Olympiad team members include Anna Radachy ’19, Patrick Bradford ’19, Misrach Ewunetie ’20, LaShonda Bailey ’20, Khalid Mitcham ’19, Vanessa Apelons ’19, and Eleanor Boru ’18. VASJ’s Science Olympiad team also attended three local invitational competitions. 

Earning fourth place in the Robot Arm competition was exciting. But the hands-on experience Javari and other students gained from involvement in science olympiad is even more important.

“I think I got good engineering experience from it,” Javari says. “It was a lot of problem solving. We had difficult things that we had to change to meet requirements for the competition. It was just a lot of trial and error.”

Javari plans to study electrical engineering in college and thanks to his experience in VASJ’s engineering program and Science Olympiad, he feels well-prepared for his future.