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SBHS Robotics Club Exposes Students to STEAM Learning

The student run club hopes to raise enough money to be able to compete in their first robotics competition
Advisor Thien Vu-Nguyen helping freshman Felipe Gonzalez learn how to program. Gonzalez joined the club because he is passionate about building and mechanics. "I thought that Robotics would be a good place to start. In the future I plan on working for a bigger company," he said.
Freshman Alan Kenji and Fernando Ayala practicing the programing.They joined because they wanted to try something different and thought it could be fun.
Junior Andrew Lopez joined because he wanted to try experimenting with some clubs that suited his interests and best determined his career path.

While everyone is worried about robots taking over the world students at San Benito High School want to learn how to program them. 

Made up of 11 full-time members. the Robotics Club aims to expose students to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) opportunities through project-based learning.  

The club was started in 2015 by math teacher Ben Pang, with chemistry teacher Thien Vu-Nguyen taking over as club advisor in 2017.   

It took the club three months to get started with Vu-Nguyen taking a "back seat" approach to his advisor role.  

"They made the mission statement themselves. They've made they designs themselves, they've did pretty much everything themselves. I just asked questions to get them thinking...," he said. "If I do everything then it's 'my club' and they have no investment in staying." 

Open to students of all grades, freshman to senior, the club meets Monday through Wednesday after school and Thursday during lunch. 

"Anyone can join," said Vu-Nguyen. "Joining doesn't necessarily mean that they will go to events. Going to events is based on attendance and participation. So, if [students] come to one or two meetings it does not guarantee that [they'll] go to a competition with us because it is a big cost. I take the dedicated members that put a lot of time into it." 

Even though they just started learning how to program the club members already have their eyes set on their first competition. They plan to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition. According to the FIRST website, "students of all skill levels are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand, hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors."  

"The season starts January 6, that's when we get our tasks and what games we're playing. Everyone gets it at the same time and we have six and a half weeks, until February 20, to design and build a robot to complete the three tasks," said Vu-Nguyen adding the competition starts in March. 

This would be the first time the club has competed. Since its inception, the lack of funds and resources has prevented them from doing so. To compete, the club will need to raise $16,000.  

"Right now, our bank account is looking like a $1,000 and we need about $16,000 to be comfortable and then more than that to actually be competitive," he said.   

He said that while most of the money goes towards registration, FIRST registration fees are between $5,000 to $6,000, there are additional costs that need to be covered like travel, food, and additional practice materials. He added the competition robot has a cap.   

"The robot itself for competition is a $4,000 cap, and then whatever it takes to practice. Which the more we have, the more we can practice, the better we get. So that's we're the $16,000 to be comfortable comes in. And more than $16,000 to be competitive because we need practice materials, which we don't have right now," he said. 

The club has started applying for grants but they are still unsure of if they will get them because a lot of rookie teams do the same thing. 

"We've put in a lot of applications...Towards the end of November, beginning of December is when all the applications start finalizing," he said adding that they have put in grants to NASA, NVIDIA, School Site Council Grant, and SOLIDWorks.  

He said the team is also looking into having company sponsors. 

"We're looking for company sponsors, financial sponsors, even people to donate food during our season. Right now, we're putting in 10 hours a week after school. When the season starts that's going to bump up to 40 hours a week. We'll be meeting every day after school and Saturdays," he said.  

He said that while the goal is to get them interested in science and technology he said the ultimate goal would be to have them pursue a career in technology. 

"If they go to college and go into engineering that would be awesome. Ultimate goal, that would be great but if not, at least they're doing something they’re passionate about and not doing some other stuff they're not supposed to," he said. "We want to expose them, because at the high school there aren’t any highly technical classes. There's the career tech classes like, wood shop, metal shop but there's really no engineering course, there's no computer science course. We don’t have any of that here and all of the schools around us do. So, we're really behind. This is giving them an option of like 'hey, there's other stuff out there' and at the same time there's a competition so it’s kind of like a sport." 

For more information about Robotics Club email club advisor Thien Vu-Nguyen at 


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Laura Romero's picture
Laura Romero (Laura Romero)

Laura Romero is a general assignment reporter for BenitoLink, covering topics like education and city government. Formerly, she worked as an assistant account executive at Pembroke PR in San Francisco, where she assisted with press outreach, event coordination, and social media planning. Her PR skills will be put to use as she helps implement social media strategies and develops an online giving campaign.

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