Last year, their robots made it to state competition. This year, their goal is the world.
The robotics club founded only a year ago by self-described nerdy Spring Woods High School students and a smart and talented coach/mentor, Donald Prier, made a strong, rookie-year showing at the UIL State Robotics Championship.
This year, the Spring Woods Robotics Club Teams includes interested students from two schools, Spring Woods High and Spring Oaks Middle. It has also won more than $8,000 in supporting grants from Dell Inc. and the Texas Workforce Commission.
Grants awarded include $5,000 from the commission to pay for the club’s registration fee to enter world-class contests. The FIRST Robotics Competition is an international high school contest where students, coaches and mentors have a six-week period for building game-playing robots that weigh up to 120 pounds.
The Spring Woods club has joined the FIRST Robotics challenge with grant funding.
All this good news is not lost on Prier, the student club’s coach. The student club was started by building a robot made out of wood controlled by two used cellphones and a Microsoft Xbox.
Prier, an engineering teacher and robotics coach, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and master’s degree in education. A doctoral candidate at Texas Tech University, he is no rookie when it comes to robotics coaching.
In 2000, he and Jeneva Westendorf, an English teacher at Foothill High School in San Jose, Calif., lead Robotics Team 255 to a first place victory in the U.S. FIRST Robotics Competition Championship.
Prier is also a National Science Foundation (NSF) – Robert Noyce STEM Fellowship recipient.
After finding some spare robotic parts on the Spring Woods High campus, Prier’s club last year was awarded $12,500 in grants and related funds, making it possible to enter the Texas State Robotics League.
The student club earned a Design Award last December, and qualified for semifinals in robotics. With one of the highest scoring robots in the Houston area, the club then won an invitation to the Texas State UIL Robotics competition in Austin.
The rookie student club had a fourth-place state standing when its robot, called Robot 13005, suffered servo motor fatigue and died, ending the club’s competition.
Now in its second year, the Spring Woods Robotics Clubs has increased from 18 up to 32 student members with the addition of the nearby middle school.
Dell has awarded grants to support STEM interest by underserved student groups and young women. The Texas Workforce Commission supports student high school teams.
While the grants received are deeply appreciated, Prier notes that continued support is needed from the district and the greater Spring Branch community.
“We are grateful to the sponsors who are committed to supporting STEM in Texas by providing funds to assist our students as they strive to become the next generation of science and engineering superstars,” he said.
“We do truly appreciate the dedication and commitment shown by SBISD administration and staff to encourage and motivate these students, and we are looking forward now to a successful year in FIRST Robotics,” Prier also said.