Our Views: Robotics team does Parker, Janesville proud

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Any athlete who finishes fourth at the Olympics is disappointed about missing out on a medal.

There should be no such disappointment when a high school team finishes fourth in a national academic competition. Instead, it's cause for celebration.

It was nice to see the Janesville School Board and administration take time Tuesday to shine the spotlight on Parker High School's robotics team. The team placed fourth in the recent Zero Robotics contest at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In a mock exercise, teams were given coordinates and told to design robotic satellites at the International Space Station that could deflect a comet heading toward Earth. Real astronauts aboard the space station ran the robots to score them while contestants watched on a big screen at MIT.

The contest drew 108 teams nationwide, and Parker was the lone Midwest finalist. Parker joined schools from Virginia and California to match wits against eight other three-school teams.

Blake Stacks was lead programmer for Janesville's team of 13 students, including one from Craig High School. The students also met astronauts, toured MIT and visited science and technology museums. Stacks thanked the board for the financial support and called the trip phenomenal, “one of the best experiences of my life.”

Computer programming teacher Bob Getka and technical education teacher Tom Heiss served as the team's faculty advisers.

“The future is extremely bright for a lot of these kids,” Getka said Friday. “Just schools, colleges seeing kids being successful from Janesville will hopefully help our kids get targeted by top schools like MSOE, Marquette and MIT. They'll know that kids they get from Janesville will be the top technology kids in the United States.”

In her blog, Superintendent Karen Schulte noted that MIT has accepted team member Sam Schendel for fall enrollment and that Stacks is on MIT's waiting list.

These students can’t be complacent. They and others in the club form the FIRST Robotics Team, which has a Tuesday deadline for a robot for a different contest. The team will earn points by having its robot pass a ball over a truss to another team’s robot and eventually throw the ball into a goal. Competition in March will be in Duluth, Minn., and Milwaukee.

The MIT achievement comes on the heels of the Craig Engineering Club's national title in the Rube Goldberg Contest last March. That team built the best machine designed to hammer a nail using at least 20 gadget steps.

It's great to see Janesville students engaged in science, engineering, technology and math—fields that lack enough skilled workers. At a time when our nation's educational excellence is slipping behind that of many other countries, it's right to recognize their accomplishments.

As Kristin Anderson, Stacks' proud mother, told the board: “These guys aren't star athletes. They may play on some teams, and some of them may be (stars), but what you did was reinforce that being smart is well worth it.”

Like winning athletes, the Zero Robotics team and its advisers deserve standing ovations from our community.

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