A collection of tools is strewn about a wooden worktable in the engineering workshop at Palo Verde Magnet High School.

“We can’t bring all these tools,” said AnnMarie Condes, the engineering teacher there. “We’ve gotta cut weight.”

Meanwhile, a group of students stand around another table, practicing repairs on a robot they designed and built from scratch.

These students are part of Palo Verde’s Optimal Robotics Team and are preparing to ship their robot, Wumbo, to Houston for a worldwide robotics competition after earning the title of 2017 FIRST Robotics western regional champions.

The Palo Verde robotics program is only in its fifth year and hadn’t won a tournament before.

The team also won the Engineering Inspiration Award, which comes with a $5,000 scholarship from NASA that covers the entry fee to the world competition next week.

Twelve of the team’s 16 members will travel with their teacher to compete against more than 400 schools from around the world.

Sienna Rhoda, a 14-year-old freshman, can’t wait to get to the world competition.

“I’m extremely excited because I’ll get to see all these different teams and all these different robots,” Rhoda said.

“It’s really overwhelming,” added Gabe Spencer, an 18-year-old senior. “I feel so accomplished. …This program wouldn’t be possible without Ms. Condes. She puts her heart into it.”


While the Palo Verde robotics team hoped to make it to the international level of competition, fundraising and soliciting tax credits to cover travel costs since the beginning of the year, getting there didn’t come easy.

Each student worked about 120 hours on the robot, usually after school and during spring break, to get it designed and built within the allotted time of six weeks.

This year, students were challenged to create a robot that could prepare an airship for a long-distance race in the style of steampunk. Robots needed to be able to complete tasks like picking up gears and Wiffle balls, and lifting themselves up on a rope.

“The crazy thing about this robotics program is you get the game the first week of January and you have six weeks to build the robot and the robot goes in a bag,” Condes said.

“You can only take it out at the tournament. So, we took it out at the tournament and then bagged it again to go to worlds. So our robot’s in the bag.”

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The team built two identical robots at the same time, allowing students to practice with one and make adjustments so when they get to worlds, they’ll know exactly what to do.


The robotics team is part of Palo Verde’s Career and Technical Education engineering program, which gives students skills to be employable right out of high school.

“Within this robotics program they do designs, they do electrical, we machine all of our own parts, so there’s a lot of components within the robotics program that gives them skills. Life skills,” Condes said.

“I have four seniors that got a job at an engineering company because they have the skills they want. And he offered to pay for some of their schooling.”

Spencer Sposit, an 18-year-old senior, is one of the students who will work at a mechanical engineering firm.

“It’s my first year here and on the robotics team,” Sposit said. “It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It let me get 15 college credits in one year.

“I also joined the robotics team and have a bunch of cool friends who are interested in the things I want to be interested in. The team has gotten me a job at an engineering firm, so I’ll be working right out of high school with three other of my teammates.”

Contact Angela Pittenger at apitteng@tucson.com On Twitter: @CentsibleMama