two students in yellow work on floor during robotics event, one holding swifter mop

GVSU hosts hundreds of young learners at two STEAM events

Grand Valley hosted both West Michigan’s FIRST Robotics District Competition and the Region 12 Science Olympiad on its Allendale Campus March 23. Hundreds of middle and high school learners participated in competitions that would put their problem-solving and STEAM skills to the test.

West Michigan’s FIRST Robotics District Competition

More than 40 high school robotics teams gathered in the Fieldhouse for West Michigan’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics District Competition. The arena was retrofitted to house a specialized competition pit, dozens of toolboxes, and banners that identified each team's work area, practice fields and a makeshift cafeteria.

At the start of Saturday's ceremonies, Provost Fatma Mili awarded the GVSU FIRST Robotics Scholarship to Christopher Tunstall, a student at Grand River Preparatory Academy in Kentwood. The $20,000 scholarship is awarded to prospective GVSU engineering students who have participated in FIRST Robotics.

Tunstall said he initially did not know participating on a robotics team would eventually lead to a scholarship. Tunstall plans to study electrical engineering at Grand Valley next fall.

team members in green shirts consult with orange shirt coach at Robotics event
More than 40 FIRST Robotics teams competed March 21-23 in the district competition at the Fieldhouse Arena.
Image credit - Macayla Cramer
two robots with cranes attached compete against each other
Teams battled all day with their robots to achieve certain objectives, won points for their alliance, and tinkered away at repairs.
Image credit - Macayla Cramer

The three-day event and volunteers were coordinated by Nicki Bonczyk, '14, who has volunteered with FIRST Robotics since 2009. Darren Fife, a Grand Valley student studying computer science and computer engineering, was one of many volunteers.

“This organization helped build my love for engineering, which is why I feel I have to give back,” Fife said. “It facilitates so much hands-on learning, and provides all these students with a fun and competitive way to discover their love for the STEAM subjects.”

Teams battled all day with their robots to achieve certain objectives, won points for their alliance, and tinkered away at repairs. At the end, the Wayland Wildcats from Wayland Union High School finished in first place, followed by teams from Mattawan and Grandville. Other awards and winners from the event can be found on the First Inspires website .

two team members from East Grand Rapids hold a drill and fix their robot
Team members from East Grand Rapids High School are pictured March 23 at the FIRST Robotics District Competition at the Fieldhouse Arena
Image credit - Macayla Cramer

Region 12 Science Olympiad

In the Kelly Family Sports Center and the Padnos Hall of Science, middle and high school students from Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties showcased their STEAM abilities in events ranging from subjects on anatomy and physiology to optics and lasers. It marked the 40th anniversary the Region 12 Science Olympiad competition hosted at Grand Valley.

With 18 middle school and 22 high school teams attending the event, the competition provided students like Violet Harlow, from Hudsonville's Riley Street Middle School, hands-on learning experiences, such as assisting in assembling her team’s launcher for the Air Trajectory event. The event calls for students to launch projectiles onto targets and collect data regarding device parameters and performance.

“The reason why I enjoy Science Olympiad so much is because it allows me and my teammates to do tons of hands-on science experiments, which we can’t do as much in the classroom,” Violet said.

two students look at a table with goggles on, a coach is at right in a blue shirt
Students at Science Olympiad check the results of their Wheeled Vehicle event with a volunteer judge. The event challenges competitors to move their vehicles using only the allowed materials.
Image credit - Thomas Garrett

Other lab events like Crime Busters gave students a crime scenario where they must collect evidence and possible subjects in a series of tests that required investigations on identifying solids, liquids and metals, chromatography, matching fingerprints and much more.

“Crime Busters was my event back in the day,” said Anna Pell, an information systems major and coach of the Riley Street Middle School team. “It was this kind of learning that brought me into my major today. While I was much more interested in the spreadsheets and data, there is a huge variety of events that open students' eyes to the world of science and math outside of tests and the classroom.”

Nine high school teams and seven middle school teams qualified for the state tournament.

Day of STEAM Learning


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