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New Skunkworks leadership steers team forward

Students, mentors, and admin represented by Steering Committee

By Timothy Wang

Therese Tipton, Nikhil Joshi, Karen Wilson, Ben Muer, and Mr. Hadley meet with Highline School District officials to discuss the Skunkworks robotics team.

After a turbulent start to the RAHS Skunkworks Robotics Team, students, teachers, mentors, and RAHS administration have come together to create a Steering Committee that will help advise and lead the team.

RAHS Principal Therese Tipton was excited about helping to bring the Committee together.

“Because there were differing opinions, or ideas of how the team should be run, it was suggested that we have some type of exec board, governing body, [or] steering committee,” said Tipton, “which is, I think, a fantastic idea because that is how pretty much all of the rest of the teams and clubs are run.”

The Committee will come together to help the Robotics team make important decisions, especially about how the team will spend money.

“As issues come up, or questions, [such as about] planning travels or [the] budget, the Steering Committee will get together and help the team make those decisions,” said Tipton.

According to Tipton, the members of this Committee will be Erin Demaree, Evan Frishholz, and Ben Meuer (representing the students), calculus teacher Nikhil Joshi (representing the teachers), Robert Hadley (representing the parents), and Thomas DeSilva and Trevor Gardner (representing the mentors). The coach of the team will also be a part of the Committee with RAHS algebra teacher Karen Wilson and parent Jim Smith filling in as temporary coaches for the team. Either Tipton or RAHS Vice Principal Tremain Holloway will serve as the representative for the RAHS administration.

“Everyone except the coaches and the administrators are elected by their representative group,” said Demaree, the senior representative. “So the sophomores elected a sophomore, the juniors elected a junior, the seniors elected me, the mentors elected their mentor, and the parents elected a parent representative.”

The team used a special voting system to ensure that the representatives adequately represented the team.

“We did what’s called approval voting, so you can vote as many times as you want for the available candidates, so if there are five candidates, and you like four of them, you can vote for all four of those people,” said Demaree, “that way the person who is elected, or who has the most votes, is the one who is the most widely approved out of everyone.”

Joshi was asked by Tipton to be the teacher representative on the Committee because many of his classes include robotics students.

“When they were looking to put together the Steering Committee, it made sense to have a teacher from the school as a representative on there,” said Joshi, “and since I was already coming to the meetings and showed some interests in the outcomes, they asked if I was willing to serve on that, so I did.”

As a teacher, Joshi’s priority is to take care of the students and to nurture their growth as robotics members.

“Certainly I want to make sure the kids are having a good time, having a productive time. They put a lot of time towards the robotics program,” said Joshi. “They make a lot of sacrifices in a lot of different areas of their lives to be able to dedicate that time and energy, so that time needs to be fun, that time needs to be productive, they need to be learning something, and they need to come out of every year feeling that that was time well spend, that they are a better person for having spent that time that year, regardless of wins or losses or whatever.”

In addition, Joshi hopes to use his position on the Steering Committee to open up the RAHS shop to uses beyond just the Skunkworks Robotics team.

“The vision that Mr. McComb and myself and Mr. Gudor [have is that the RAHS shop is] not the robotics shop as much as a technical maker space for the school,” said Joshi. “The robotics uses it in the evenings after school, and we want people to have Science Olympiad down [in the shop] in the mornings, and Flight by Design down there as necessary to build the various components, and making that [the shop] much more of an open and shared space for the school as a whole.”

For junior representative Evan Frishholz, keeping the robotics team together is a must.

“My major goals are keeping the team, for one, together, both as the team aspect as well as keeping the kids, the students on the team as close together as possible,” said Frishholz. “[I’m] trying to create an environment that we’re all able to learn and grow, like robotics is intended to do.”

That being said, Frishholz stresses the importance of mentors for the robotics team.

“I want to keep FIRST’s mission in mind, [which] is it’s a mentor driven program, so we want to keep all our mentors happy,” said Frishholz, “and we want to have good communication with our administration, parent and mentor groups, so I’m just trying to do my best to create harmony within the team and all the stakeholder groups.”

Demaree hopes to be a moderate voice on the committee, ensuring that the committee is one that listens to all point-of-views.

“My experiences on the team this year with all of these different issues has been that everyone is really polarized and not doing a very good job of listening to each other,” said Demaree, “so I think everyone on the Steering Committee, but especially me, my goal is to listen, so that way we can come up with the best option and really understand that and not have it be based off of feelings or prejudice.”

On the committee, a key priority is finding ways to insure the team.

“There’s a few major problems that we determined were some of the main reasons for the rift,” said Frishholz, “such as insurance coverage when events are being held in our building, insurance coverage when we’re not in the building, [and] mentors and coaches having access to the school.”

Going 4H, which means joining a network of other 4H teams that would be independent of the Highline School District, is one solution.

“We’re looking at a 4H within this school, which is an option that keeps us a part of the school, but it’s essentially insurance coverage,” said Frishholz.

For both Tipton and Joshi, finding a new coach for the robotics team is the number one priority.

“We’ve had some interest from some people that have FIRST Robotics background, which is really good,” said Tipton.

For Joshi at least, having a coach that is dedicated first and foremost to the students is vital.

“To me a good coach is someone who has a long term vision for the program, is a good people manager, is a good delegator, figuring out who is the best people for various roles, both from a mentor perspective and a student perspective,” said Joshi. “They’re focused on having a successful team that wins, but I think they should also be focused on having a productive, enjoyable environment that’s inclusive and makes everybody want to be there, and somebody who is as always an advocate for the students.”

Frishholz agrees with Joshi in how the coach must be able to nurture the robotics students’ learning.

“I really think that the coach needs to be supportive of the students’ opinions and decisions because after all this is the program in which students are supposed to be growing and learning,” said Frishholz.

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