Utica Mayor Thom Dionne presents a check to team leader Marina Suggs during a Robo-Tics meeting Nov. 26.

Utica Mayor Thom Dionne presents a check to team leader Marina Suggs during a Robo-Tics meeting Nov. 26.

Photo provided by Thom Dionne


Utica robotics team receives donations for competition costs

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published December 3, 2018

UTICA — Each school year, teams of high school students, coaches and mentors work together during club meetings to build game-playing robots that can weigh a lot, be complex to design, and be put to the test at local and regional competitions.

Although these competitions and meetings help the students to learn many important skills, they aren’t cheap.

With the requirements of supplies, travel costs, competition fees and more, coming up with funds to pay for the students to be able to participate in this opportunity is a key aspect.

“To bring a team from scratch to their first tournament can easily run $2,000-$3,000. As the team grows through the years, some materials that we are trying to acquire will be reusable, while their growing robot-building experience and expertise will require more complicated and specialized parts,” said Marina Suggs, a team leader for the Robo-Tics team at Eppler Junior High School in Utica.

Suggs is also an educator at Wiley Elementary School and a parent of a Robo-Tics member.

To help the team reach its goal to pay for the costs, the team at Eppler Junior High School recently received a donation from a local fundraiser and a gift from another Utica club.

The local fundraiser was put together by Utica Mayor Thom Dionne, who started the donations off with $100 of his own and then was joined by members of the Utica community.

“We received a total of $1,045 from our donors. After GoFundMe takes their share, the payout was $1,008.35,” said Dionne.

The fundraiser received 21 total donations with a goal of $1,000.

Dionne said that he attended Eppler as a kid.

“Being a product of Utica and tied to the schools, I wanted to help out any way possible,” Dionne said.

A friend of his is a parent of one of the Robo-Tics students and asked Dionne if he would like to be involved and help the students.

Dionne said that the money raised will cover the costs of supplies, parts and kits that the students will need to put their robot together.  

He used social media and word-of-mouth to get the fundraiser noticed, which received a good response within a week and a half.

Thom Dionne presented the check to the team at the Robo-Tics’ Monday night club meeting on Nov. 26 at Eppler Junior High School.

An additional gift was provided by the Utica Rotary Club. The gift was $500, which the Rotary Club presented in the form of a check to the Robo-Tics Nov. 27.

Thanks to the donations, the students are closer to the opportunity to participate in the competitions and meetings that allow the students to develop STEM skills while also realizing the value of hard work, innovation and sharing ideas.

The Eppler Robo-Tics team is a FIRST Tech Challenge team for grades seven to 12 in which members are challenged to design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. FIRST stands for “For Innovation and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

Teams also must raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach for the opportunity to win awards.

Suggs said that the funds donated specifically will go toward the education and materials needed, in addition to the travel and other fees.

“The money goes to purchase parts (motors, communications devices [phones and controllers], wheels, gears), regulation competition practice sets that are unique every year, regulation flooring for the practice field, practice field barriers, tools, spare parts, team banner, team T-shirts, registration fees, notebooks, etc.,” Suggs said in an email.

She said the students and teachers are happy that those who donated went out of their way to make the team’s competitions possible.

“The team is thrilled about the donations. With these funds, we are ensuring that this program will be financially viable through this competition season, allowing our students to develop their passion for, and skills within, the fields of technology and engineering. This program opens up great opportunities for the students, including availability of future scholarships as well as gaining invaluable hands-on experience, while developing great friendships and, most importantly, doing something that they love to do,” Suggs stated.

The Robo-Tics’ next tournament will take place Dec. 8 at Baker Middle School in Troy.

To continue to help the Robo-Tics reach their goal to cover the funds required to be able to participate in the competitions and meetings, private donations can be sent to Eppler Junior High School and be specified for the robotics team.