Hmong College Prep Academy’s Robotics Team Continues Growth

By Dave Bonko






Hmong College Prep Academy’s Robotics Team continues to attract new participants.

“This year, we had almost all completely new members for our FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team. In total, we had 25 students spread across five teams that included business, drive, coding, mechanical and electrical,” stated business team coach Ryan Lester. “The business, electrical and mechanical teams were lucky enough to have at least one returning member from last year; however, the coding group was composed entirely new members.”

Mr. Lester cited the contributions made by each team.

“Each team was incredibly successful. The business team came up with a new name (G3ART3K), logo, an updated Chi You mascot design and amazing look for our new team trailer. They also secured significant donations from many new sponsors as well as produced monthly newsletters. The coding team started from scratch this year in learning how to code an FRC Robot. The coding team was extremely fortunate to get support from their coach Ross Winberg who spent a lot of time learning how to code over winter break as well as help from a new mentor from a University of Minnesota Computer Science major, Qer Lee. The mechanical team was fortunate to have two mentors this year to help them build and learn new skills: Fred Heim, who returned from last year, and Brad Baltrusch, a new mentor this year who has been involved with FRC for the past eight years. With their guidance students were able to learn how to use pneumatics to help make their robot this year. Before the early end of the season, the mechanical and electrical teams designed and built a robot that was fully functional, and the coding team had written a successful code that allowed the robot to do everything it was built for. Our drive team was all ready to start practice on our new field, when the season was cut short by the COVID pandemic.”

A number of new funders assisted to ensure the program had the necessary resources to compete as well as provide a quality experience.

“This year, we were lucky to receive a number of grants and donations from a number of very generous companies,” stated Lester. “Pentair and Best Buy provided the program with major contributions. We also received fiscal support from Minnetronix Medical, PV Solutions Garfield Bean Foundations, Optum and Northeast Bank. In addition, individual donations totaled over $2,000. In-kind donations came from CAP carpet in the form of a carpet for our robotics field at wholesale cost, a wrap for our new team trailer from The Vomela Companies, and discounts on our meals from iPho by Saigon and Firebox Deli. We used the funds to buy new tools, supplies for our robot, team shirts, registration costs for the tournament, a new trailer, and team meals.”

Mr. Lester also was grateful for the strong support the program received from the State of Minnesota.

“Our largest grant for our field totaled $19,500 from the State of Minnesota and that was overseen by FIRST Upper Midwest. This grant was made possible in part via a $100,000 grant through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.”

High school robotics continues to grow in Minnesota as well as the world. During the 2019-2020 season over 660,000 students from over 110 countries participated in a robotics program.

“There is also a lot of camaraderie between schools which adds to the fun of the experience,” stated Mr. Lester. “This year, the team was awarded a grant for an FRC field perimeter. We were one of five recipients from the state and just one of two in the metro. This field perimeter will allow HCPA and the G3ART3K to host practices for teams from across the metro during the competition season for years to come. With this field we were also able to secure a partnership with the University of St. Thomas Engineering program to bring in engineering students to help us build the field elements that are required and change each year.”

He added, “Before we were shut down by the COVID pandemic, we were able to host one practice event that brought in teams from Trinity School and Mounds Park Academy. We also had support from St. Paul Central High School, Washington Magnet High School, Highland Park High School, Cretin Derham Hall, and Great River School in the planning, design and building process of the field with Central High School constructing the large center structure. Without their help, this field would not have been possible.”

Though robotics can be a very competitive activity, Mr. Lester sees participation as a means to develop skills that will last a lifetime.

“The ultimate goal of our robotics program is to provide students with experiences and opportunities in academic adventures outside of the school day. It provides opportunities for students to learn skills in many different areas including engineering, science, math, graphic design, business, marketing, finance, recruitment and coding. Even more than that they learn how to be creative, solve problems, develop teamwork and make presentations to high-level corporate executives. They have grown to become incredible leaders and thinking is such a short period of time. Over the past two years, we’ve seen students’ confidence levels rise and their creativity explode. It is our hope in the coming years to expand this program to the entire system of FIRST teams to include FIRST LEGO Jr. for our K-3 students, FIRST LEGO for our 4-8 students and FIRST Tech for our 7-10 students.”

HCPA and the G3ART3K would like to thank those that made this grant possible: FIRST Team 1816 – The Green Machine from Edina, for their work in creating the grant opportunity, legislative sponsors Senators Melisa Franzen (DFL)*, Paul Anderson (R), Susan Kent (DFL), Eric Pratt (R), Melissa Wiklund (DFL), as well as Representatives John Huot (DFL), Heather Edelson (DFL), and Tama Theis (R), for their strong support of this initiative. Special thanks to Gene Jasper, who led the selection process for FIRST in Upper Midwest and fielded endless calls and emails to ensure that the field at HCPA would be possible.

Pictures courtesy of Hmong College Prep Academy – Members of the Hmong College Prep Academy Robotics Team work on their robot G3ART3K, the group’s entry in the State of Minnesota’s FIRST Robotics Competition. Unfortunately, the team’s season was cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic.