Students compete in ‘sport for the mind’

Student is creating a 3D model.
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The Flying Aces robotics team from Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Charter High School in Camarillo will cohost and compete in one of the biggest robotics competitions in California.

ACE Charter and Ventura High School share the honor of hosting the inaugural Ventura regional FIRST robotics competition. The tournament, to be held March 26 to 29 at Ventura College, is free for spectators.

The nonprofit organization FIRST—For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology— is the brainchild of inventor Dean Kamen, whose passion is helping young people discover the excitement and rewards of science and technology.

High school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math make up the 44 teams competing in the tournament.

The teams had six weeks—the deadline was midnight Feb. 17— to design, program and build their robot with supplies provided by FIRST and adhering to this year’s theme, “Recycle Rush.”

At the tournament, alliances of three teams will be randomly formed. Alliances go head-tohead in timed matches pitting their robots against other alliances to complete various tasks.

Robots compete on a 27-footby 54-foot playing field, stacking boxes on platforms, adding recycling containers to the stacks of boxes and disposing of litter. The three-team winning alliance advances to the world championship in St. Louis in April.

Reaching new heights

Flying Aces team mom Cindy Vandor said the tournament is “sport for the mind” and blends the excitement of a sporting event with the challenges of real-world engineering.

The 25-member Flying Aces includes honors students, some students who may struggle in class and some with learning disabilities. Robotics, Vandor said, teaches the students about respect, perseverance and teamwork.

Velma Lomax, ACE robotics instructor and team mentor, said some of the students floundered in school until they found their niche in robotics.

“Robotics feeds academia and academia feeds robotics,”she said. “Being on the robotics team inspires kids to ask questions, to test ideas.”

Team captain Isaac Vandor, a senior, said he enjoys the problemsolving element of robotics.

“I took calculus, but I wanted to see what I could do with it outside of the classroom,” he said. “Building a robot and programming it really put all of the math I learned in class into action.”

A National Merit Scholar semifinalist, Isaac, 18, hopes to become an engineer after he completes college.

During the process of building and programming the robots, teams work with mentors and engineers in their communities, learning 21st century skills needed in college and the workplace, including project management.

The Flying Aces have three engineer mentors from Simi Valley based AeroVironment, a tech company that makes drones and electric vehicles. Two employees from Haas Automation, an Oxnard based machine tool manufacturing plant, also coach the team. Mentors help team members turn their ideas into reality.

“Education should be this way,” Lomax said. “Everyone mentoring and teaching someone. Robotics teaches this.”

Isaac said the robotics program has shown some of the students they have the opportunity to attend college and pursue careers dependent on a college degree.

“We’ve had members go on to California State San Luis Obispo and California Maritime Academy. Before joining the team, they didn’t realize college was an option. The team literally changed their lives.”

Sophomore team member Lucas Holmes said joining the team has inspired him to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

“FIRST was so much fun and I learned so much, especially about teamwork and meeting deadlines and budgets,” Lucas said. “The other teams and mentors inspire you to do your best.”

The Ventura competition is one of 56 regional tournaments. Worldwide, 3,000 teams are expected to compete this year, with winners advancing through district competitions and qualifying championships to get to the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship. For more information about the competition, visit, or email

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