All About Bots

Deanna Sloger tosses a ball for the robot to catch. Photo by Coco Zickos

Deanna Sloger tosses a ball for the robot to catch. Photo by Coco Zickos

High-schoolers from across the island team up in Kauaibots, and they’re impressing the competition here and on the Mainland

Robotics isn’t just about building robots. The Kauaibots program teaches students valuable lessons, such as critical thinking and how to work together as a team. It even helps teens build their confidence and provides them with complex problem-solving skills.

“You can’t solve a problem the same way every time because something different will happen,” explains Deanna Sloger, a senior at Island School. “You learn to deal with things in a way that’s not conventional.”

Sloger is part of Kauibots, the islandwide robotics team for high school students. She joined the program during her sophomore year because of her interest in science. She continues to enjoy the activities and believes they will be an asset for her academic future.

Kauaibots also has been instrumental in guiding some students, including Elizabeth Makizuru, a Kauai High sophomore, toward career goals. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue career-wise prior to joining the team, but now she’s leaning toward mechanical engineering.

“It opens up a whole new world for them to look into,” says Charlene Steuri, a Kauaibots mentor who heads the program’s fundraising efforts.

But most of all, it’s enjoyable for the students.

“You’d actually be surprised how much you like it,” says Erin Rynda of Kauai High School, who wasn’t mechanically inclined before she joined and now encourages others to participate in the club.

Kauaibots (Kauai 2465) is the island’s FIRST Robotics Team open to all high school students from around the island. The group currently has members from Kapaa and Kauai high schools, Island School, Kawaikini Public Charter School, Olelo Christian Academy and homeschoolers. The program focuses on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. On Jan. 5 (when the season officially begins) each year, teams across the world are given a “game challenge” that includes building a robot that can accomplish a sports-related task, such as throwing a ball into a goal. The students are given six weeks to complete the task, then they travel to Oahu with their robots, where they compete with teams from around the state in the Hawaii Robotics regional tournament.

The bot with (from left) Charlene Steuri, Erin Rynda, Thom Sloger, Deanna Sloger and Elizabeth Makizuru

The bot with (from left) Charlene Steuri, Erin Rynda, Thom Sloger, Deanna Sloger and Elizabeth Makizuru

The program started on the island in 2008, when Waimea High School and Island School formed groups to compete in the tournament. Budget cuts the following year did not allow schools to field individual programs. Island School stepped up to the plate, offering to serve as host for an islandwide team at its campus in Puhi, and it’s where the robots continue to be built. Today, the team also has a site at Kukui Grove Center, where they are able to practice using their mechanical creations.

When students join, they are offered an opportunity to take part in a number of activities, including designing and programming the robots. There even are options to help in alternative arenas that include the business side of the competition, bookkeeping and public relations.

“There’s a lot that has to be done in order to complete the whole journey,” explains Steuri. And what a journey it is, according to the former Miss Maui, whose daughter Stephanie is the current Miss Hawaii. One of the best parts about Kauaibots for her is the intensity of the competition.

“You just get a rush,” says Steuri.

The first day, when the robot is uncrated after its trip to Oahu, is one of the most intense parts of the three-day journey.

“Everything and anything that could possibly go wrong with the robot goes wrong on this day,” notes Steuri.

But they always pull through. Kauaibots has received several acknowledgements for its efforts, won an engineering inspiration award in 2011 and entered the national competition in Atlanta — “where you’ve got the best of the best,” says Steuri.

Since then, the team has made it to the regional quarterfinals, and she’s convinced it will rise to the top again. Until then, the group continues to receive awards in “gracious professionalism,” which is one of the most important aspects of teamwork among members of the same club, as well as competitors.

“We’re all competing,” says Steuri, “yet we’re all showing care for each other.”

She obviously cares deeply for the students she voluntarily spends so much time helping, even though her two children, Stephanie and Benjamin, graduated from Island School, where they were members of Kauaibots and the reason for Steuri’s initial participation.

“I simply enjoy it,” says Steuri, who is married to Christoph Steuri, father of their children and manager of Koa Kea Hotel.

Thom Sloger, Deanna’s dad, also likes helping and seeing students learn by turning their knowledge into actions. He volunteers as a mentor and lead building mechanic.

“It’s certainly not for our benefit; it’s for the students,” he says.

Still, the highlight of the tournament is seeing the final product that everyone has worked so hard to accomplish together as a team performing for judges — this achievement fosters a spirit of excitement.

“That’s what keeps them going, and it energizes us (the mentors) and keeps us young,” says Steuri.

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