NAMPA, Idaho — After winning a regional robotics competition on Saturday, some of Idaho's best and brightest will test their STEM skills on a world stage.
The Ford Idaho Center was filled with the whirs and whizzes of power tools last weekend as high schoolers from around the region went head-to-head in the FIRST Robotics Competition.
The event tests students' Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) abilities. FIRST regional director Lisa Lalliss-Skogsberg said the teams also inspire students to develop communication skills by reaching out to local partners and adult mentors for grant opportunities.
For the 28 teams participating, winning meant more than bragging rights. Lalliss-Skogsberg said top-scoring teams also would attend the World Championship Robotics Event in May.
Eighteen of the 28 teams that participated were from the Gem State.
By the end of Saturday, three of the five winning teams were from Idaho. Now, they have only a few weeks before traveling to Houston and competing in the World Championship event.
Team Taters, made up of several Treasure Valley high school students, has gone to Worlds 12 times over the last 14 years.
Capital High School senior Grace Reeder helped design and build Team Taters' robot, the transport-tater.
"It's a bunch of people with shared interests, that get together and get to nerd out over weird robots," Reeder said. "It's super fun to see something you've worked so hard on for months come together and actually perform."
On Friday, the students' massive — most averaging about 125 lbs. — robots competed in challenges like shooting oversized tennis balls into targets and climbing monkey bars.
While Amelia Hernandez's first robotics competition was last weekend, the Columbia High School junior is not new to the STEM world.
"Engineering itself started my eighth-grade year going to the Micron's girl's trip," she said. "Then, throughout high school, I've been in the STEM academy at Columbia."
Henandez hopes to continue working in STEM after graduation.
"I want to be some type of engineer for sure," she said. "I like to be able to build things from scratch and have it work correctly. There are different projects you can do like making it go from computer to real life is fun."
Lalliss-Skogsberg's two children went through robotics programs in high school. She said it provided them a safe space to succeed and pursue their interests.
"These kids are all the same. They get each other. They're all accepting and wonderful to each other, and they want to make each other better, and they want everything to be better," Lalliss-Skogsberg said. "I feel so great knowing this is our future."