CloverBots robotics club at Prairie High School receives $10K award
Sept. 15, 2022
Students across the Battle Ground school district who are interested in robotics, engineering, design and technology will benefit from a $10,000 grant awarded to the CloverBots program run by Prairie High School photography teacher Todd Ferris, a former engineer who came out of retirement to teach. The CloverBots 3674 program was chosen out of dozens of applicants for the annual Pegasus Award, given by Saxton Bradley, Inc. a company based in Kent, Washington, that designs furniture for schools around the country.
At a ceremony held in Prairie’s career center, SBI CEO Raymond Near said Ferris’ grant application stood out due to his “passion for what you’re doing for this program and for these students.”
“You guys are the future,” Near said to the half-dozen students who gathered to commemorate the award. “You are the people who will be driving this country 15 or 20 years from now.”
CloverBots is a club that accepts students from across the district. Last school year was the first time since the start of the pandemic that students were able to work together in person on building a robot for the FIRST Robotics competition. They ended up finishing second in the regional competition at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Prairie junior Noah Pape, who will be entering his second year with the program. “Especially when you get into the competition, there’s just something to it that’s exciting.”
Battle Ground Public Schools offers nearly 500 Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses each year to middle and high school students across the district. The courses span nearly every industry, from engineering and automotive technology to welding and culinary arts, and give students the opportunity to try different career paths. In higher-level CTE courses, students often can earn college credit and learn the same skills that they’d have to pay to learn in college.
Ferris and lead program mentor Scott Femling, also a retired engineer, said they hope to use the $10,000 award to continue
rebuilding the CloverBots program.
“It takes a lot of money to take part in competitions like this,” Ferris said. “You have to buy all the parts and materials and pay entrance fees to the competitions. So this grant will go a long way toward building this program and making it viable for years to come.”
Femling said their goal is to keep the size of the team relatively small so that students get to experience all aspects of designing a robot, from computer-aided design, to milling, electronics, programming, assembly and strategic planning.
“From my experience in the engineering field, the challenge that they give these kids over seven weeks is harder than I gave engineers at HP,” Femling said. “You get the challenge, and then you have to take them through the whole design process starting from scratch.”
Femling’s son, Jared, is also a sophomore at Prairie and part of the program. “The competitions are really fun because teams even share parts or advice. The atmosphere is really nice and there’s a lot of teamwork.”
Femling said he’s looking forward to having more experience this year and getting a chance to mentor new students joining the program.
“I’m excited to get back to state this year and maybe even qualify for the world competition,” he said. “It’s going to be a really tough challenge, but I’m excited for that.”
Ferris said the FIRST Robotics competition represents a chance for students to tackle a project that’s more similar to what they’ll face if they end up pursuing a career in engineering.
“Throughout the rest of the year students are working on smaller projects that are designed to succeed,” Ferris said. “This competition is three months; the robot may work or it may not, it involves all the aspects of design. So it’s really challenging, and it’s the only program I’m aware of that incorporates all of that.”
Ferris said he’s already been hearing from more students interested in joining the CloverBots club and getting involved. He’s hopeful the grant will help with growing the program and building it up to be more student-led.
“I enjoy watching the transition of students going from being intimidated by even the thought of doing all of this to realizing ‘I can do this,’” Ferris said. “The students are learning a ton, but they’re having a lot of fun through the process, and that’s what I enjoy.”
You can learn more about the CloverBots program on their website. Information about Battle Ground Public School’s Career and Technical Education pathways and opportunities is also available on the district website.