Alana Lee and Diara Tsikis were confident they were going to take first at the national level in robotics.
The two Blocker Middle School students didn’t disappoint.
Lee and Tsikis, both 14, competed at the Mobile Robotics Technology and Robotics: Urban Search and Rescue contests at the 2018 SkillsUSA Championships. The competition took place at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville at the end of June. They both took the gold in the middle school category.
The students created a robot that was designed to remove dangerous materials. Participants construct a remotely controlled robot that can retrieve and dispose of hazardous materials.
It was the first year Lee and Tsikis had competed.
“I think it’s very exciting to take first,” Lee said. “When the season started, we never expected to make it this far because it was our first year doing something like this.”
It also is the first year Blocker Middle School has competed at SkillsUSA, winning both district and state.
“It’s pretty surprising to us since it’s our first time competing at something like this,” Tsikis said. “But we also felt pretty good about it. It made us think, ‘Wow, we really are this good.’ So, it’s exciting.”
By being the first team from Blocker Middle School to take part in SkillsUSA, the students felt like they set a high standard for future teams, they said.
“I’m wondering what the other teams will do since we set the bar very high,” Lee said.
Along with Lee and Tsikis, students from Texas City High School also competed at nationals. Dillon Harvey, 18, and Farrell Moeller, 17, took third place.
They earned the right to compete at nationals after taking first at the Texas SkillsUSA Championships in the spring.
Lee and Tsikis won state in urban search and rescue-exploratory robotics.
“We knew we were going to win state,” Lee said. “We were one of two teams and we placed first. The top three qualify for state. Once we got to state, we realized how serious it was. You’re constantly under surveillance. It was pretty intimidating.”
Lee and Tsikis had to make a few changes to their robot before state.
“We added some stuff to our robot,” Tsikis said. “We added a longer arm to it and added light since our last one didn’t have light.”
Building the robot didn’t take long, Lee said.
“Because we were limited to two days of the week to build it, it took two weeks to build it,” Lee said. “But if you were to sit down for three to four hours, you could have it done in a day.”
SkillsUSA Championships feature more than 6,400 students competing in 104 occupational and leadership skill areas. The program helps students prepare for the workforce while defining industry standards for entry-level workers.
“There were so many other people at nationals who had way more experience than we did,” Lee said. “There were high school and college kids that had been there before. We were a little worried at first since we had never been to nationals before, but it all turned out good.”