Gunnery Team Among Finalists in VEX Robotics Competition

Seven members of The Gunnery’s VEX Robotics Club traveled to Middletown High School on January 12 to compete in their first VEX Robotics Competition. The annual event brought together teams representing 60 high schools and robotics programs in Connecticut and Massachusetts, which participated in qualification and elimination rounds throughout the day. The Gunnery’s team qualified for the championship round, placing among the top 16 teams.
“Our design was perfect,” said the club’s founding member, Charles Yu ’19, who was, however, frustrated by the robot’s performance in the final round. There was a problem with the drive motor and the lifting system overheated. “Our robot just stopped moving. We knew what the problem was, but we couldn’t touch the robot,” he said.

Still, the team did well enough that Yu hopes to enter another VEX Robotics competition this academic year. “We have a lot of potential,” he said.

Monte Blaustein, the founder of The Gunnery’s engineering program, known on campus as IDEAS, serves as the faculty advisor for the club. “It was the most impressive robot by far,” he said after the competition. “It did so many things and looked very professional.”

Yu began studying robotics at The Gunnery independently, as an arts option during the winter term last year. While interested in engineering, he said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study in college, and decided he should learn about robotics. He followed up his independent study by joining a robotics club in China and participated in his first robotics competition last April. “I just wanted to learn more about it. I wasn’t thinking about competing before,” he said, but after joining the team this summer at a national competition that was “like the U.S. Open” for robotics, Yu was hooked. “They’re very experienced, very good,” he said.

He noted the competition in China wasn’t just about how to program or drive the robot. “You ally with other teams and you have to create strategy. Strategy is very important,” he said.

Upon returning to campus in September, he established the VEX Robotics Club, and began working with a core team that included Jihoon An ’20 and Austin Ngo ’20 with the goal of participating in the VEX competition. Together they spent two hours each day designing, building and testing their design as a co-curricular project during the fall term, Blaustein said.

The club’s membership extends beyond the ranks of the core team and at the competition last weekend, Yu, An and Ngo were joined by club members Christopher Park ’21, John Feng ’20, Frank Ma ’20, and Margaux Barthelemy ’21.

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.