Award-winning Bioscience High School robotics team gives students something to cheer for

Bioscience High School students perform maintenance on their competition robot. The school’s robotics team, Dragon Robotics 2375, was started in 2008 and has already won several international awards. (Sierra LaDuke/DD)

Bioscience High School in downtown Phoenix has about 300 students and no sports teams. So instead, the school’s students and staff root for its award-winning robotics team.

The team, Dragon Robotics 2375, was started in 2008 and has already won four awards from the international organization FIRST, an acronym that stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

Every year, the Bioscience robotics team works to recruit new students and trains them to design and build robots to compete in tournaments such as the First Robotics Competition, FRC, and First Tech Championship, FTC.

This year the team will build at least seven robots, the biggest being about 120 pounds for the FRC competition.

The building process begins in January, when the FRC releases instructions to the 3,000 competing teams across the globe for what type of robot must be built and what tasks it must be able to execute.

Ari Stoneman, the 17-year-old vice president of the club, is in charge of helping the team implement their designs and ideas into the actual building of the robot.

Stoneman said when the team builds the robot, “The theme is intentional design. We’ve found that works well.”

Last year, the FRC told teams to build a robot that could launch an exercise ball, the goal being to launch it as far as possible.

Also last year, the team made it further than they ever had at FRC, reaching the state finals with just 11 other teams.

Stoneman said they have a long process leading up to the build.

It starts with designing a basic sketch on a piece of paper and then pairing up with someone else to combine the best ideas into one robot, Stoneman said.

After that, the process of pairs joining continues until the whole team is split into two groups.

“We try to combine the two robots, but usually that doesn’t work,” Stoneman said. “So we prototype both ideas.”

The team builds two very basic robots to see which is more successful at the given task. From there, the winning robot is chosen and they begin designing it more meticulously.

“But building robots is only half of it,” said Jessica Popham, the team’s teacher host.

The other half consists of spreading and promoting the STEM Education Coalition, which is dedicated to informing government officials of the importance of science, technology, engineering and math to the U.S. economy.

The team has had no issues with image, as they won the Gracious Professionalism award from FRC last year, an award given to the team that displays outstanding sportsmanship, which is “part of the ethos of the competition,” according to the FRC website.

This year, the team has multiple events to spread STEM, said Angie Garcia, the second vice president in charge of the team’s image and inspiration.

Garcia said one event includes building a pie-throwing robot for the World Peace Pi Festival celebration held at Margaret T. Hance Park in March.

Others include hosting smaller-scale robotics competitions such as the First Lego League and Junior First Lego League tournaments, which are for elementary students who build robots out of Lego bricks.

Garcia, a senior, joined the team her junior year and said she wished she had joined sooner.

“I regret not joining as a freshman,” she said. “I had a lot of fun last year.”

Popham, the teacher host, said she was thrilled with all of the student leaders.

“It’s really cool to see students in general grow as leaders,” she said. “They’ve grown tremendously.”

Popham said the team affects them in so many ways, not just with the mechanics of robots, but also with confidence, public speaking and even essay writing.

The team wrote several essays in 2012, nominating Popham for the FRC’s prestigious Woodie Flowers Award, which she ended up winning.

The award recognizes one teacher in the state for their dedication to inspiring science and technology through robotics. It is essentially a coach of the year award, Popham said.

The students on the team had to write essays and submit a video explaining why Popham deserved the award.

Popham said she was overjoyed when she won.

“I cried. Since it was nominated by the kids, that made it extra special,” she said. “Then I read the essays and cried more!”

Another winner of this award is Fredi Lajvardi, mentor of the famous Carl Hayden Falcon Robotics FRC Team 842, known for beating the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team at the FRC competition 10 years ago.

Lajvardi went on to win the Woodie Flowers Award at the international level, an opportunity now available to Popham if her students choose to re-nominate her.

For now, the team is mentoring its newest freshman members with workshops on power tools, programming, designing, and more topics in preparation for January.

The team is determined to make it to nationals this year, and Stoneman said they have a plan.

“We need to create solutions to problems before the problems occur,” Stoneman said.

Contact the reporter at