VEX Robotics camp held at Southland H.S.

Published 5:01 pm Saturday, July 22, 2017

The whirring and clicking of gears filled the interior basketball court of Southland High School on Thursday.

At various stations, participants in the VEX Robotics camp worked on robots that they had designed, fine tuning them and adjusting their programs.

At one station, Thomas Shaw, 17, and partner Max Schmitz, 14, both of Adams, worked on their robot. Shaw operated the remote control while Schmitz made adjustments.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s designed to pick up cones on the playing field,” Shaw said. “They are up around 4 feet so we get higher stacks and more points.”

Shaw, now a team captain in his fourth year, said he joined robotics on a whim.

Andrew Dahlen of Northland Community and Technical College talks to kids about programming code during the during the VEX Robotics camp at Southland High School. Michael Stoll/

“I just said, ‘Why not?’” he said.

Shaw has competed in regional, state and national competitions since joining the robotics team.

The VEX Robotics camp was conducted by Andrew Dahlen of Northland Community and Technical College. Dahlen is one of the leading VEX Robotics coaches in the state and brings the camps to schools rather than having the students come to him. He was invited to Adams by Southland Middle and High School Robotics Coach Paula Mortensen.

“We’ve had an explosion in our robotics program due to success, so we wanted to have the opportunity to allow these kids to learn some things over the summer,” Mortensen said.

In the week before the camp, Mortensen held a boot camp to instruct new kids in the basics of robotics. The kids were then divided into teams to build competition-style robots.

“With the five teams that we have, they’re able to look at the different mechanisms because all of the teams are brainstorming different ideas,” Mortensen said. “They’re troubleshooting, seeing what does and doesn’t work well for this competition, and modifying.”

Mortensen said that once the camp ends, she will break the kids up into new teams for the upcoming season. The kids will have a head start on the season.

Although the kids receive instructions from the adults, they design build and program the robots themselves.

Mortensen said judges look for particular things during competition.

Hallie Bergene, 15, of Adams demonstrates her robot’s cone lifting abilities. Michael Stoll/

“They get judged on excellence awards, such as how work as a team and how they use an engineering notebook to prove the whole engineering process,” she said. “We have a lot of regionals across the state. We will probably attend three regional competitions in hopes that we do well enough the get a state spot. Eventually the goal for all teams across the world is to get to the world championships in Knoxville, Tennessee.”

Southland has made it to the state level every year since the robotics program started.

Mortensen said that the program began with two kids, but has grown to 23.

“Robotics is a great compliment to our academic rigor,” she said.