William’s Journey into Engineering and Robotics
- Pathways & Partnerships
How William Moe turned a curiosity into a career path with help from robotics competitions and engineering classes.
It started with a school announcement. There was an open house to learn more about and potentially join the robotics club, and seventh grader William Moe knew he had to attend. He had always been interested in engineering because his father is an engineer, but robots were especially intriguing to him. Little did he know that joining that club would start him on a path to regional and national competitions and a future as an engineer.
District 191 is proud to have Robotics programming including teams that participate in competitions through FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. With different program options for all grade levels including team-based competitions, FIRST provides a structure for students to learn important STEM and programming skills, but also find confidence, collaboration and other important skills.
Teams do more than just build and compete with robots, they have to organize, raise funds, find sponsors and market their team like a business. Starting out with the smaller robots, William found that he loved being a part of a team and learning more about the trial and error process of coming up with creative solutions for the challenges of the competition.
“A lot of it is hands-on learning and figuring out how to do things and solve problems,” said William. “There are a lot of concepts like learning about force, programming and just being able to build something and then learn all about it.”
When William started at Burnsville High School (BHS) he dove into engineering classes, while also taking College in the Schools and Advanced Placement classes to earn college credits. Courses like Aerospace, Fabrication and Design, Principles of Engineering and Civil Engineering broadened his understanding of the concepts and applications of the world of engineering. He also became more and more involved in the Blaze Robotics Team, moving up to the larger robots and tougher challenges of the FIRST Robotics Challenge.
“We had a lot of fun and we started performing really well,” said William. “My junior year was a big year with many of my teammates having graduated, so we really pulled together and ended up making the final bracket of the tournaments we competed in. We have great mentors on the team who guide us in learning stuff, but also help to poke holes in our designs and ask questions about our process.”
His teachers at BHS and the community volunteer mentors for the team all pushed Wiliam to learn as much as he could, try new things and find the best way to solve the problem while still expressing creativity. During his senior year, the team kicked into high gear, ranking number one in the state of Minnesota, winning two regional tournaments and ultimately advancing to the 2023 FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston where they ended up finishing fifth in the world.
It was amazing all around,” said William. “My big goal this year was to go to the world championships and we put in a lot of work and built the best robot we could. We did well throughout the year and kept going until we ended up in the top eight. Houston was so surreal with stands full of people watching us and cheering.”
Competitions center around different games and challenges that teams build and program robots for. This year's challenge involved picking up cones and cubes and placing them on poles or shelves on the other side of the field, as well as balancing three robots on a sort of teeter totter device. The teams compete in qualifying matches, win ranking points and ultimately the top eight teams are ranked and get to select their robots and alliances to compete in a double elimination bracket.
“This was my most active year on the team and I did a lot to help out, learned about CAD work, worked on programming, wiring and I was one of the drivers of the robot,” said William. “Programming is fun because you can do some really fancy things beyond triggering an action with a button. There are ways to have the motor change speeds based on how far it is from an object or using cameras and vision software to track things.”
As he prepares to graduate from BHS, William is taking additional engineering classes including an independent study, Advanced Manufacturing, and the capstone course Engineering Design and Development. He will start at the University of Minnesota - Duluth in the fall to major in engineering with credits transferring from his work at BHS. He is already scoping out different class projects and possible clubs to join and plans on volunteering at tournaments or becoming a mentor for a team some day.
“People don’t always have the best view of robotics, but the amount of creativity and self expression that you can have through a robot is understated,” said William. “My advice for kids looking for their passion is to just try stuff! I am fortunate to have found robotics pretty early on and that the Pathways at BHS supported that.”