Home Cherry Hill News Y-Naughts blazing a trail with Cherry Hill East Robotics

Y-Naughts blazing a trail with Cherry Hill East Robotics

The all-girls team will represent Cherry Hill East at the Vex Robotics World Championships in late April after taking first place in the design category at state championships.

An all-girls team with Cherry Hill East’s Robotics Club will be taking part in the VEX Robotics World Championship for the second consecutive year later this month. Pictured are team members Nafessa Jaigirdar, Kaileigh Scott, Caroline Cheung, Iris Kim, Shir Goldfinger, Vidhya Sundar and Caylin Payne. (MIKE MONOSTRA/The Sun)

Four years ago, being a part of the robotics club wasn’t even on the mind of seven Cherry Hill High School East senior girls.

“We had no idea where the robotics room was in the school or who did it or if we should do it,” Caylin Payne said. “We walked in the first day and realized it really interested us.”

About two years after becoming the first club members to form an all-girls team with Cherry Hill East robotics, Payne, Caroline Cheung, Kaileigh Scott, Shir Goldfinger, Iris Kim, Vidhya Sundar and Nafessa Jaigirdar are now preparing to represent their school on the world’s biggest stage. This all-girls robotics team, named “Y-Naught,” will head to Louisville, Ky., on April 24 to take part in the 2019 VEX Robotics World Championships. The team qualified for worlds after taking first place in the design category at the New Jersey state championships in February. It is the second straight year the team is advancing to the world championships.

Six of the seven team members first joined Cherry Hill East Robotics at the tail end of their sophomore year, with their first year of competition coming in 2018.

“I heard about it through all of them,” Sundar said. “They were thinking of forming a robotics team and they needed some people to help with coding. I was interested in programming but didn’t have a lot of experience with it. I thought getting involved with robotics would be a way to learn how to do that and try it out.”

Many of the team members had some general interest in science and technology when they joined the club, but no one had experience working with robots. Payne said the first year involved a lot of trial and error.

“The first robot we had, we realized it wasn’t efficient at all, we had to make some changes,” Payne said. “Once we came back together and re-thought the entire thing, we actually improved a lot.”

“We spent months trying to figure out 10 lines of code for the basic movement of the robot,” Sundar added. “We were so confused on how to do it. We struggled a lot in that beginning period but once we figured it out, we were able to pick it up really quickly.”

One of the things the team members enjoy most about the club is being able to work on the robot as a group and learn in a non-classroom setting.

“We came in with interest in this field and had to learn how to apply it to robotics,” Goldfinger said.

“I really like working in a group,” Kim added. “It taught me to step out of my comfort zone and try everything available. You never know where it will take you. I never imagined going into engineering.”

The team’s first trip to the world championships in 2018 was a surreal experience for many of the members. While the team struggled in competition due to technical issues, the girls said the experience was incredible.

“It’s very overwhelming,” Cheung said. “You meet so many people from different countries. We got paired with an alliance partner from China. They didn’t know any English. They were trying to communicate with us with a whiteboard. My mom translated for us.”

This year, the team is confident they will improve upon last year’s 78th place finish at worlds. Payne is confident the technical issues from last year won’t repeat themselves, while Sundar believes the team will feed off of last year’s experience.

“We’ll probably be more relaxed this year,” Sundar said. “Last year, I think we were stressed going into our first two matches.”

Regardless of the team’s finish, it has laid down a lasting legacy within Cherry Hill East robotics. Before the Y-Naughts formed a team, only a handful of girls took part in the club. This year, Payne said the club had between 15 and 20 girls participate and a second all-girls team was also formed.

“When we first came in, we were always a bit nervous to walk into the robotics room and get started,” Sundar said. “Now, I think the other girls on teams are able to walk in and get started like it’s no problem.”

“I think we’ve seen a change compared from last year to this year,” Kim added. “There’s so many more girls in our club. It’s really a good thing.”

The world championships will be the final competition for the Y-Naughts at Cherry Hill East, but it won’t be the end of their journey. Prior to joining Cherry Hill East Robotics, the members of Y-Naught were planning to pursue college majors in a variety of fields. Now, all seven team members want to pursue some kind of STEM career.

“The end of worlds will be a new beginning for all of us,” Payne said. “It’ll be fun.”

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