April 17, 2017

SVSU alumni & FIRST Robotics mentors pleased to return to alma mater to compete

Thousands of students descended on Saginaw Valley State University April 12-15 to demonstrate determination during the FIRST Robotics state championships. It was the first time SVSU has hosted the event, which drew two alumni back to campus as coaches.

“I’m so impressed,” said Ben Younkin, a Midland High School math teacher who coaches his school’s “Like A Boss” robotics team.

“SVSU has been a great venue for this event,” he  said. “This makes me proud.”

His sentiment was shared by Bob LaRocque, a teacher at Bay City John Glenn High School who was impressed by the high-energy, fast-paced event.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” he said. “It was a great idea to bring FIRST Robotics here.”

In hosting the statewide event, SVSU welcomed some 7,500 visitors to campus, resulting in an estimated an economic impact of $1.2 million for the Great Lakes Bay Region.

The teachers say the educational benefit of FIRST Robotics is worth its weight in gold.

LaRocque helped establish John Glenn’s FIRST Robotics group — named “JGHS” — two years ago as a way to develop the plethora of academic interests involved in managing such a team. Teammates engineer robots to compete against opposing groups using autonomous and remote-controlled robots piloted by the students. They also are charged with raising funds to purchase technology, which is a task that often involves marketing and business savvy.

Embarking on such a multidimensional effort amounts to an educational experience that comes at a time when many of the participants are nearing the end of their high school lives, so organizing the tournament in a postsecondary setting was wise, LaRocque said.

“FIRST Robotics in some ways gives them a college experience, so it makes sense to bring this competition to a place like SVSU,” said LaRocque, who received a bachelor’s degree in French and a teaching certificate from SVSU in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

A proud member of the SVSU marching band while a student, Younkin graduated a few years ago, but never left the Cardinal family. He enjoyed using the occasion as a reunion with his alma mater and an opportunity to show off his old haunts to his students. Younkin, who earned a bachelor’s degree in math education and a master’s degree in instrumental teaching in 2010 and 2013, respectively, hopes FIRST Robotics returns to SVSU in 2018.

“Getting these FIRST Robotics students to a university like this is powerful,” he said. “It exposes them to a setting they might not otherwise see at a crucial time in their lives.”