Niles West’s Team 321J Returns from VEX Worlds Championship

The team checking over their robot before they compete.

By Alicia Malek, Academics Editor

Niles West’s robotics team 321J competed at the VEX Worlds Robotics Championship in Dallas, Texas. From Australia to Finland, teams from across the globe competed on May 5 through 7.

The Niles West team consisted of seniors Michael Schuller, Dev Patel, Vraj Patel, Ali Syed, Taha Munshi, Casey Meskovich, and Adina Thompson and were sponsored by engineering teachers Robert Foster and Tim Sullivan.

“The competition is divided into ten divisions. There are 800 teams so each division had 80 teams. In our division, we came out 58th, and we had 4 wins and 6 losses,” senior Michael Schuller said.

According to Foster, “They performed like a world-class team.”

At the end of each year’s game, VEX introduces a new competition. The students began designing their robot in April last year.

“This year, we have goals that we have to stack rings on and balance both our robots and the goals on platforms,” Schuller said. “For the first part we drive around and pick up rings, and then we try and balance ourselves which can be kind of be a challenge. That is a huge factor because once you balance it, you double the points for the goals, and you also get bonus points for your robot being on there.”

Competing requires students to not only build their own robot, but also to write code for it. For team 321J, Casey Meskovich does the coding, which is crucial for controlling the robot and competing in the autonomous round.

“It’s really the students working on their own designs and doing their own testing,” sponsor Robert Foster explained. “We don’t give them a design to build the robot, and we don’t really tell them what to do with it. They figure out through trial and error; they study videos that other teams produce and post on YouTube, and then they start working on it. They work together about once a week at home and at our club meetings and dedicate a lot of time to it.”

For many of the students, robotics has been more than just a competition.

“Robotics gives you a lot of different skills such as teamwork and management. It gives you a lot of sense of what it is to work in a team, and it’s kind of like a family to me,” senior Dev Patel said. “It’s been a long time, and honestly, I’m at the end of my journey for robotics, but I would probably be doing something similar to this as I am going into engineering.”

Participating in robotics has also helped Schuller prepare for his future.

“I want to become a mechanical engineer so this really closely relates to that, not only in the dimension of engineering, but also social skills and working in a team. I’m the captain so just leading a team, I learned a lot about how to properly delegate tasks and be able to take everyone else’s ideas,” Schuller said.

“It will be a big difference next year because our two seniors teams are going to be gone, so we’ll be trying to build the teams up again,” Foster said.

Although this team will be graduating, they have laid the groundwork for the other Niles West teams and ones to come.