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Students are robotics standouts

Abby Wamstad, 17 of Newport is a Dean’s List Finalist in the FIRST Robotics competition. She earned the honor for her leadership as a member of the Park High School robotics team, Data Bits. Ten winners will be announced at the Robotics Competition World Championships in St. Louis. Submitted photo.

Kate Sawyer from East Ridge High School and Abby Wamstad from Park High School were named Dean's List Finalists in a national robotics competition called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science, or FIRST.

It's the highest individual honor a student can achieve in the contest — or it will be if they're among the 10 winners who will be announced at the Robotics Competition World Championships, set for April 27-29 in St. Louis.

Wamstad, 17, of Newport, is captain of outreach for Park's Data Bits robotics team. Sawyer, 17, lives in Woodbury and is co-captain of the ERRORs, or East Ridge Robotic Ominous Raptors, team.

Both teams competed in the North Star Regional Tournament at Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota April 7-8. The Dean's List finalists were announced during the awards ceremony.

"I was in total shock," Wamstad wrote in an email because she was out of town. "I knew that I had worked very hard to get where I am today and to do everything that I can for the team, but I also understand that other people (did) too. So I didn't expect to win... It took me awhile to realize what had just happened but once it sunk in I was the happiest I had ever been."

Sawyer agreed that it was a good day.

"It was really exciting," she said. As for her reaction, "I didn't say much of anything. I gave my dad a hug. He was volunteering on the field."

Each of the 120 robotics teams across the country can nominate a maximum two members for Dean's List consideration. To be eligible, candidates must promote the principles of FIRST in the community.

"You have to go out and spread these ideas," Data Bits team advisor and Park chemistry teacher Mike Simurdiak said. "Abby's been really big in taking care of these things."

In addition to working on a team tasked with building their robot, named FIERRBOX, Sawyer worked with the team's corporate sponsors 3M and Western Refining/SuperAmerica. She also helped organize a STEM camp last year for elementary school kids.

East Ridge will make its third third attempt to win Robotics Competition World Championships in St. Louis. They were denied their previous two outings.

"We have made it to the semifinals division for two years and now and the goal is to move beyond that," Sawyer said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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