Cranbrook students prepare to compete at the World Championships.

Cranbrook students prepare to compete at the World Championships.

Photo provided by Clayton Matthews

Cranbrook robotics advances to World Championships

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 20, 2024


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Cranbrook robotics teams recently competed in the state championships, where four out of eight Cranbrook Upper School robotics teams qualified for the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas in April. Only 16 teens were awarded world-qualifying spots.

In the state competition, Cranbrook’sTeam 39Y won the Gold Divisions Championship and earned the Tournament Finalists Award; Team 39K advanced to the finals of the Blue Division and earned the Tournament Semi-Finalists Award; Team 39H advanced to the finals of the Blue Division, earned the Tournament Semi-Finalists Award and won the Build Award; Team 39Z came in fifth in the robot skills competition and earned a qualifying spot to worlds from another team’s double qualification.

The Cranbrook robotics program includes students in grades 1-12, and programming for each age group varies. Students in grades 8-12 have the opportunity to participate in the Vex Robotics Competition, or VRC Robotics Program.

“Here at Cranbrook, we focus on encouraging kids to try different areas of interest and develop confidence in that area,” Head of Upper School Noël Dougherty said.

The Upper School has around 100 students participating in robotics. Within the program, students break into smaller groups of about six-eight members. Eleven out of 14 Cranbrook teams made it to the state championships this year, four of which are moving on to worlds.

“We are very proud of our students for all of their very hard work and dedication to this program,” Robotics program manager Katherine Bis said.

Cranbrook students have access to a lab that is open seven days a week, and Bis said it is filled with students seven days a week. Dougherty described the lab as “a wonderful, supportive environment, and a safe space for kids.”

“We as a school have provided this opportunity that has fueled the passion for these students to be able to explore robotics and STEM, and then on top of that, have the opportunity to compete at the state, national and world levels,” Bis said.

Bis described the preparation for the contest as an “iterative design process.” Each year’s competition consists of a different game, which is announced at the World Championships the year before. Once it’s revealed, students start thinking about their design so that by the next school year, they are ready to start developing their robot.

Bis said her background in engineering has helped her lead the teams at Cranbrook. She received a degree in mechanical engineering and child psychology at the University of Michigan and went on to work for Lionel Trains.

“We’re able to incorporate real-life engineering practices into our engineering process in high school, which really helps the kids to be more prepared as they go out and start looking at careers of their own,” Bis said.

After their success at the local and state levels, the teams from Cranbrook plan to bring a year’s worth of work to compete in the World Championships in April, which can be viewed at