More than two hours away from her house, Alina DeVoogd feels completely at “home.”
The Algonac High School senior is among the nearly 5,000 high school students attending the statewide FIRST Robotics competition hosted by Saginaw Valley State University this week. From Thursday to Saturday, April 13-15, 160 teams from Michigan — from Adrian to Zeeland — are competing against each other using autonomous and remote-controlled robots piloted by students.
The occasion converged two of the things DeVoogd has “fallen in love with”: the high school robotics competition that has captured her imagination and attention for two years, and the university she plans to attend in the fall.
“I was so excited when I heard SVSU would be hosting FIRST for the first time this year,” she said.
“I thought that was the perfect combination. The environments for both have a lot in common: There’s real energy and both have such caring people. They both make you feel like you’re at home.”
DeVoogd’s excitement for the team-up was strong enough that she attended the Thursday-through-Sunday competition despite the fact her team, Algonac High School’s Full Metal Muskrats, did not advance beyond the regional tournaments that preceded the SVSU-hosted contest.
“I couldn’t miss this,” she said.
DeVoogd first fell for FIRST Robotics when her high school created the Muskrats team two years ago. She signed up as part of the group’s marketing team, charged with promoting the team and seeking funds. The fit was perfect for the future marketing major at SVSU.
“It was a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” she said.
This year, DeVoogd helped the Muskrats secure sponsorships from NASA, Ford Motor Co., Lowe’s Home Improvement, and a few local businesses from her hometown, she said.
“Building the robots is very expensive, so every bit helps,” she said.
One sponsor donated a 3-D printer for the team’s purposes.
“I fell in love with the FIRST Robotics community and environment,” she said. “The constant kindness you find on these FIRST teams is incredible.”
DeVoogd said she expects to remain involved in FIRST Robotics as a mentor after she graduates from high school.
“It makes me happy to help others,” she said.
That same characteristic was partly what attracted her to SVSU. She was familiar with the university because of a friend who attended the institution. After participating in a campus tour, DeVoogd was sold that SVSU was a perfect fit for her.
“I really loved the feel of the environment,” said DeVoogd, who earned the university’s President’s Scholarship and plans to live on campus. “It was a place where I could tell the faculty really cared about the students. It felt comfortable.”
DeVoogd said she hopes the high school students attending this week’s competition are inspired by the shared values of FIRST Robotics and SVSU.
“I hope they fall in love with both too,” she said. “I hope they feel like this isn’t someplace that you go to just walk through: It’s like home.”