Student sparks robotics team at Hinsdale Central

“I’m doing this because I’m passionate about it,” says Jordyn Imaña, a junior, who started a robotics team at Hinsdale Central. “It doesn’t feel like work to me.” | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Dec. 11, 2013
Akshay Patel of Hinsdale (left to right) Manoj Kurapati of Westmont, and Suraj Khatau of Oak Brook, members of Hinsdale Central's robotics team, design a computer that goes forward until it hits something and then turns 180 degrees. | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Dec. 11, 2013
Members of  Hinsdale Central's robotics team rush back to their computers to figure out why their robotic vehicle moved backwards instead of forward during their test in the school hallway. | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Dec. 11, 2013
HInsdale Central juniors Jordyn Imaña of Willowbrook (center) and Zena McCarthy (right) of Clarendon Hills listen to mentor JIm Gerry explain how the logistics division should chronicle the robotics team's progress. | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Dec. 11, 2013
Freshman Matthew Nevling tries to stay out of the way of the robotic vehicle he helped program, while robotics team creator Jordyn Imaña looks on. | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Dec. 11, 2013
Jordyn Imaña, a Hinsdale Central junior, created the robotics team at Hinsdale Central.  | Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media
Jack Melvin, a senior from Hinsdale, (left to right) and freshmen Max Luo of Westmont and Sriram Soundararajan of Willowbrook practice programming during a meeting of Hinsdale Central’s new robotics team. |  Kimberly Fornek/Sun-Times Media Dec. 11, 2013

Student Jordyn Imaña is the driving force behind Hinsdale Central’s new robotics team, which received a $6,000 grant from NASA.

In January, Imaña accompanied a friend, who attends the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, to a meeting of the school’s robotics team.

The team was preparing for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition, in which teams of students have six weeks to build a robot able to perform certain specified tasks.

Only a few students on the academy’s team had experience with computer-aided design, but Imaña, a junior from Willowbrook, had taken a class on the software.

“I helped them out and learned a lot,” Imaña said. “I picked up on the programming quickly.”

She joined the academy’s team and went with them to competitions in Milwaukee and Chicago. Imaña enjoyed the experience so much, she decided to start a robotics team at Central.

“She got the bug,” said Jim Gerry, a retired administrator from the academy who helps coach the Aurora school’s team.

The competition “does feel like a sporting event,” Imaña said. “It makes science exciting and something to be enthusiastic about.”

But, “what I really loved about the program was they didn’t just focus on winning,” Imaña said. Awards are given for gracious professionalism and team spirit.

Imaña went through what she called a somewhat challenging process of forming a new school club. She talked to math teacher Steve Wilson, who sponsored the computer club.

The club was basically an open computer)lab, Wilson said.

“I was trying to figure out a way to give it more value. I realized we could convert the computer club and get some new energy,” said Wilson, who already was familiar with the robotics competition.

“It seemed like a real exciting thing, especially with the students we have here,” Wilson said. “Having Jordyn here was really the spark.”

She collected about 50 signatures in support of forming a team and got approval in May. She now has nearly 100 names on the team’s email list. Between 25 and 30 students attend the weekly meetings, including Shirong Liu, a junior from Hinsdale.

“It’s pretty cool, building something from scratch and putting all your ideas into it,” said Liu, who was on her eighth-grade robotics team in Oak Park.

She already knows how to program, so she chose to work on the electrical engineering for the robot, to learn something new.

Electrical engineering, Liu said, “is calculating the energy to do motions and making sure your robot won’t underpower or overflow. Right now, that’s all I know about it.”

Other Central students, like Vivian Chen of Westmont, are handling logistics for the team.

“Our strength is creating bonds between everybody on the team,” Chen said. “We kind of dabble in everything.”

The logistic group is finding sponsors and wrote a nine-page business plan, which was part of the application for a rookie grant from NASA.

Imaña wrote essays required for the grant on questions, such as what will define success for your team, and explain the relationships you envision between students, faculty, mentors and the team members.

Imaña said she worked with a friend on the academy team who is studying engineering in college, exchanging thoughts on the essays. She even asked her English teacher to read them over.

“It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because we got the grant,” she said.

The money covers the $6,000 registration cost for a rookie team at the three-day competition, which begins Feb. 27.

“I’m doing this because I am passionate about it,” Imaña said. “I couldn’t clock the hours, but it’s worth it to me.”

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