Robotics returns from second China trip

chinaBy: Sara Stortz

Thirty-thousand feet above the ground, eight Swartdogs crowded together in an airplane as they anticipated taking both their engineering and cultural knowledge to the next level in China, a chance that arose as a returned favor after a Chinese robotics team visited Cedar Falls last year in order to help train a new team and to participate in a scrimmage.

The Swartdogs first became connected with this Chinese team back in 2012 at the championships. During the event, a Chinese business man was walking around the arena trying to figure out what was going on. He couldn’t speak any English, but he encountered a  mother of one of the Swartdogs who fluently spoke Mandarin. After explaining to him what all of these people were doing, he immediately took an interest in learning about FIRST robotics and wanted to start a robotics team in China.

He kept in touch with the Swartdogs and later invited four of their mentors to China in December of 2013 to do some training.

This recent trip from Aug. 10 to 21 is the second time that the Swartdogs have returned to China since their first trip in the summer of 2014. This time, the team spent most of its time at Shenzhen, where the scrimmage was hosted, but they also made some time to travel to Guilin and Hong Kong. Some of the activities the students experienced on the trip besides the scrimmage included building robots, going on a cruise ship, sightseeing and exploring inside of caves.

Senior Mary Radke was one of the students who went on the trip. Unlike most of the other students, Radke went on the first China trip, as well; however, she noted that they were able to do a lot more sightseeing on this recent return trip.

“I really liked the whole river cruise. It was really pretty,” Radke said. “It was a really nice, different perspective of China that I haven’t seen.”

When it came to the day of the scrimmage, Radke described it as being like any other regional they’ve been to, although the Swartdogs had more time to help team members with their robot.

“I really enjoyed seeing the looks on the faces of the teams we helped,” Radke said. “It’s very rewarding because you get to see how much you’ve helped them and how that had impacted their lives.”

Physics teacher Kenton Swartley, one of the mentors of the robotics team and the man for whom the name “Swartdogs” is derived, accompanied the students on the trip along with four other mentors. Like Radke, Swartley has also had experience traveling to China before. “I think it gives them a broader view of the world to have a chance to see what people live like,” Swartley said. “It kind of opens up their minds and eyes a little bit on what’s going on outside of Iowa.”

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