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CLC students show off robotics skills in national competition

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Sep 21, 2021

Not every skill can be learned in the classroom. College of Lake County (CLC) student Eduardo Zarinana considered himself a novice in robotics, but competing in SkillsUSA, a national career and technical student organization that hosts competitions, helped him gain hands-on experience and learn valuable skills for his future career. Not only did he compete, but he was half of a CLC team that placed second nationally in the SkillsUSA Robotics: Urban Search and Rescue Challenge - Explosive Ordnance Disposal competition in June.

“I had the desire to learn, and my peers guided me how to do things,” he said. “SkillsUSA is a great way to get hands on learning. It’s a great way to experiment and practice what you’re learning in your classes.”

Eduardo Zarinana and Ben OtterbacherThis year, two teams participated for CLC in the urban search and rescue competition. The team of Zarinana and Ben Otterbacher placed first in the state and second nationally, and the team of Nathan Ortiz and Jayson McGuire finished second in the state. All four students are studying in the engineering transfer program.

Photo: Eduardo Zarinana, left, and Ben Otterbacher working on their robot

“SkillsUSA focuses on students developing and showcasing skills in their fields,” Otterbacher said. “We work on lots of technical skills we pick up in the classroom.”

This was the first year CLC had a team in this specific competition, though there are numerous other fields of study the college has had students compete in and show off their skills.

“SkillsUSA is the venue for our students to showcase the knowledge and skills we teach in the classroom,” said Eric Anderson, CLC’s SkillsUSA coordinator. “It’s a combination of personal skills to help you grow, workplace skills to help you thrive at work and technical skills grounded in academics.”

The competition team is student-led, and while Rob Twardock, an engineering instructor at CLC, acts as an advisor and mentor, it’s the students that do all the work. For the urban search and rescue competition, that meant building a robot and coding it to do the tasks needed.

“It was a lot of fun to do what we wanted with our design and goal,” Otterbacher said. “Being in charge and organizing everything ourselves was interesting and a good learning experience.”

Improving their skills makes students more ready for the workforce, but participating in SkillsUSA on a team helps build up their resume and demonstrate skills outside of knowledge that employers look for.

“Employers want students who participate in clubs and competitions because they mimic the kinds of things that happen in the workplace,” Twardock said. “Classes give you the academic side, but the competition simulates what could happen on the job and reflect their ability to be an engineer.”

The challenge for urban search and rescue was to create a robot that opened and closed mailboxes, searching for an ordnance it would have to bring back to the start. The robot needed to move around obstacles and up and down ramps, completing the task as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The competition is usually done in-person, but it was instead done virtually because of the pandemic.

The teams also had to give an oral presentation and prepare an engineering notebook documenting their design work.

Twardock believes the successes of these teams reflect the students here at CLC as well as the facilities.

“CLC has quality students who are committed and dedicated to their education and succeeding,” he said. “It speaks to the strength of our facilities like the Baxter Lab and how much they help the students.”

The engineering transfer curriculum at CLC is a two-year program that prepares students for continued engineering study at a four-year college or university. The program parallels the first two years of an engineering program at most universities accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology. Many students save thousands of dollars by starting the engineering program at CLC and transferring to a bachelor degree program. CLC has guaranteed admission agreements with several area engineering schools, including University of Illinois Chicago, Northern Illinois University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Marquette, and Southern Illinois University.

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.