NORTH FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — A robotics club is putting North Fond du Lac on the world stage. North Fondy VEX Robotics teams have qualified for world championship competitions three years in a row—and they’re looking to make it four.
Eighth-grader Kian Zibolsky-Billeb remembers last year’s world competition in Dallas. He said he met other students from around the world in the back-to-back matches.
“I think there are a couple of Chinese teams there, there were people from Germany, they're from everywhere,” Zibolsky-Billeb said.
The organization’s president Darrell Benson said there were thousands of teams from 50 different countries, and was a great opportunity for students.
“You definitely feel proud of them, Benson said. “And there's a lot of energy when you're there. It's different. It's exciting. It's fast-paced."
Co-founder Austin Boniender said the organization came from humble beginnings when the team started in 2011.
"[The team started] with just me and two other friends from Boy Scouts,” Boiender said. “After that year ended, we decided to take it to the school district and it's been growing ever since.”
Today, Boniender is a mechanical engineer at alliance manufacturing.
“I definitely had a leg up going to college knowing a bunch of different skills and CAD and programming,” Boniender said.
But state, or even world, trophies aren’t the only things these students gain. Having to work in groups and present their robots to judges during competitions builds soft skills, Benson said.
“They have to communicate well, and that's kind of lacking today in the workplace,” Benson said.
Not to mention lifelong friendships that program alumni Nick Cohen, Aiden Benson, Malachi Benzel and Tayler Schumacher—now all majoring in stem fields in college— say they still treasure. Two are roommates at UW-Platteville, and two are roommates at UW-Stout.
“I think the biggest thing going through all seven years was the development in our social skills and networking skills between our own team members and like other teams,” Cohen said. “That was the thing that changed the most.”
The team plans to compete in the state competition in March, which could qualify them for the world competition in Texas in April. Benson said he hopes to see the program grow even more in coming years, as the young engineers gear up to shape robots of the future.
“Every kid has come out of this room as a success, and we're pretty proud of that,” Benson said.