From The Virginian-Pilot By Sierra Jenkins

Norview High School’s robotics club on Nov. 18, 2021, at SVT Robotics in Norfolk. (Courtesy of Norview High School)

It’s been a season of renovation for the robotics club at Norview High School.

The group hadn’t met since March 2020. And after reconvening in September, the club had to overcome a few minor setbacks.

Students would usually meet every Wednesday to prepare for their regional competition, but the pandemic wreaked havoc the day before they were to be in Richmond. And the engineers-in-training didn’t partake in the virtual competition last school year.

“I could not see that being a reality,” Katherine Arroyo, the club’s director, said.

The hands-on after-school program houses around 40 students from all grades. When Arroyo asked last year whether the students wanted to participate remotely, no one responded to her email. Amid navigating virtual learning, she didn’t want to throw another hurdle in their way.

Arroyo is also the program director for Norview’s Leadership Center for the Sciences and Engineering, which is a four-year specialty program for students across the school division. Although she is a leadership teacher, she said she took the responsibility to oversee the club two years ago after the last faculty member resigned.

“I could not let that program die,” she said.

When club season started in September, it took a couple of Saturdays to get the room back in order. The next challenge was finding funding so students can compete in March.

At the beginning of the school year, club members noticed some tools were missing. Arroyo said the workshop is a shared space, and anything could’ve happened to them while the team took time off, but they were not returned.

The robotics club typically receives an annual grant from the Newport News Shipyard, but that didn’t happen this year. Arroyo said she’s working to secure funding for the next school year. Through monetary donations and funds from the high school, Arroyo was able to purchase new tools and secure money for the competition’s $5,000 admission fee.

When she took the team in November to SVT Robotics, an automation software business in Norfolk, the company’s operation coach, Morgan Willson, heard some of the issues the students faced. Wilson told her boss and asked if the company could help. It donated $2,000 shortly after.

“There’s just not enough engineers available to do the work, and we need that next generation to be ready — anything we can do that help,” said A.K. Schultz, SVT Robotics CEO, and co-founder. “You never know what kid is going to be in a robotics team, who’s going to (create) a billion-dollar company or make the next breakthrough, and we should all support that.”

Robotics isn’t the most sought-after extra-curricular activity compared with sports. When the club members set foot in their workshop for the first time at the beginning of the school year, Arroyo said they felt “demoralized.”

But their outlook changed after the trip to SVT Robotics.

“They realized that people believe in the team,” Arroyo said. And when donations began to roll in, they didn’t feel alone.

As of mid-December, the robotics team garnered $9,000 — three-fourths of their $12,000 goal — and they’re trying to court two professionals who recently attended meetings.

The club’s students have always been passionate, but this is year is different in many ways. Arroyo called it the year of “rebuilding.”

She’s been an educator for 26 years, and her students surprise her every year, especially the robotics club.

“When kids are faced with a challenge, they will typically rise to the occasion,” Arroyo said. “And when kids are empowered, they will surprise you every time.”

Sierra Jenkins, 229-462-8896,