OSU 4-H robotics team takes first place in world competition

May 3, 2018
Isaac Salchenberg, Josiah Van Hattem and Kohlton Kuczler won against kids from all over the world. Photo by Colette Hattem.
Isaac Salchenberg, Josiah Van Hattem and Kohlton Kuczler won against kids from all over the world. Photo by Colette Hattem.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Three Oregon teenagers overcame mechanical difficulties to win the FIRST World robotics championships in front of 35,000 people at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.

Josiah Van Hattem, Kohlton Kuczler and Isaac Salchenberg, members of the Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H program in Douglas County, guided their robot, Ghost, through his paces to go undefeated in the qualifying round and then took two of three rounds in the finals against competitors from around the world to win the title.

The team didn’t anticipate losing a small but essential tool for adjusting their robot during the playoffs. That could have been the end of competition, but another team stepped up with a replacement.

“They compete like crazy, but also work with other teams, said Colette Van Hattem, leader of the kids’ Mechanical Maniacs robotics club. “I’m proud and thankful for the way they’ve grown. Watching them learn has been gratifying.”

The kids don’t just learn competition, she said. They also learn to work out conflicts, develop critical thinking and demonstrate motivation to learn.

“It promotes responsibility and gracious professionalism,” she said.

When the three 4-H members competed for the first time last year, they expected to do poorly but ended up in the middle of the pack, according to Van Hattem.

“It had been a dream, but we didn’t know if it was possible,” she said. “Just qualifying was a big deal but we didn’t think we’d do well. It opened our eyes that we can actually do this. At this year’s competition we knew what to expect.”

At the world championships, teams are randomly paired with two others to compete. Montana and Washington joined the Maniacs to send their hand-constructed and programmed robots to perform activities like knocking balls off a table, picking up blocks and putting them into specialized boxes and keeping other teams from doing the same.

Though they won’t be competing again, Van Hattem said the members of team feel strongly about doing outreach and mentoring other kids to be champions. They also want people to know that 4-H is about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as much as it is about the more traditional animal clubs.

“The Mechanical Maniacs 4-H club has always been an active, cutting-edge robotics club,” said Teresa Middleton, OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Educator in Douglas County. “The club loves to share their passion with others. I’m just so proud of them.”


Author: Kym Pokorny