If Jesus, was the son of a carpenter, master builder of a kingdom and the chief cornerstone, then His followers should be good builders too.
Judging by some merits of five young East Valley Catholics, they are. The 10 and 13-year-olds are representing the region, state and country at the FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — LEGO League World Championships April 18-21 in Houston.
Catholic Master Builders
Dubbed Catholic Master Builders, the homeschooled students from three families are a mix of rookie and veteran LEGO robotics builders.
The team legacy, however, is well-known. Its members have always won regionals, earned best project presentation at state twice and took third place overall at the state level last year. That team even appeared on a training video for new judges.
This marks the Catholic Master Builders’ fourth year of competition. The world competition-bound team — Noah Terrill, Peter and Sarah Towey and Nick and Ben Zazick — even got to be guest judges during a recent Expo for the “junior” division of the FIRST LEGO League. The homeschool families are considering starting a junior team for 6 to 10-year-olds next year.
The 32,000 teams in the older student competition explored hydrodynamics this year. The challenge required teams to improve the way people find, transport, use or dispose of water.
The decision among 14 qualifiers at state was unanimous. Each team is graded on project components including the presentation, robot design and core values of teamwork, inspiration and professionalism.
“They deployed incredible robot performance, had an extremely innovative solution to their problem and they were gracious professionals,” said Hilary Kanuch, a coordinator in the engineering department at Arizona State University, an affiliate partner for FIRST.
The Catholic Master Builders tackled fatbergs within a municipality’s sewer system for the hydrodynamics portion. The congealed lump of non-biodegradable matter can clog a system that often goes long undetected. Their proposal created a cost-effective “Smart Sewer Inspection Device” with a pressure sensor connected to a wireless transmitter that alerts the proper person to a clog.
“We learned the value of perseverance and not losing hope. We went through so many ideas,” said Sarah Towey, one of three eighth-graders on the team.
They discovered some project ideas already had solutions.
“You guys are undoubtedly known for having a great presentation,” Kanuch told the team. A small element from each previous year is referred to in the current presentation. Returning judges know to look for the Catholic Master Builders’ latest effort.
For the robotics portion, competitors built an autonomous robot from a LEGO MINDSTORMS kit and programmed it to complete 18 missions. Each team has two-and-a-half minutes for their robot to complete as many missions as they can.
“They get a lot of real world experience when it comes to engineering,” said Mike Zazick, team parent and coach.
Beyond that, team members and their families relish the fellowship internally and during competitions.
“We not only build cool robots together, we also share our Catholic faith by praying at our meetings, encouraging our team to be active, practicing Catholics, and through this we build friendships within the team and other teams that we meet along the way,” Zazick said.
The team, whose shirt backs say, “Build – Faith – Friends,” holds its own internal competition of seeing who can “high five” the most event volunteers and fellow teams. It keeps everyone’s energy up, the young Catholic Master Builders said.
With more than 1,500 volunteer roles and tens of thousands of students expected to compete on the world stage, the team will be busy outside of competition time building the kingdom of God.