Two middle school teams from Central Washington University’s GEAR UP program will attend the VEX Robotics World Competition in Louisville, Kentucky, April 19-24. The teams qualified at the state meet held in February, besting 30 other teams to compete internationally. They are the only teams in eastern Washington to qualify.
Nearly 5,000 students from more than 25 countries will attend the VEX world competition.
Team AI (Artificial Intelligence),from Foothills Middle School in Wenatchee received the "Middle School Excellence Award" at the state competition. The eighth-graders are Willow Baker, Caitlyn Drolet, Regan Tumilson, and Chloe Wiegand; their coach is Jenelle Bailey.
From Tonasket Middle School, the Dream Team qualified based on their programming skills, one of the more difficult parts of the competition. The eighth-grade team members are Kason Tibbs, Joey Coleman, and Kyle Martin; their coach is Nathan White.
Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a CWU program funded by an $18.3million US Department of Education grant, one of several that the university has received in the past 15 years. The current grant, SOAR3 (Success and Opportunity through Affordability, Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships) serves seventh- and eighth-grade students in the Brewster, Easton, Highland, Lake Chelan, Manson, Omak, Oroville, Quincy, Richland, Tonasket, and Wenatchee school districts.
“Developing the robotics teams and participating in STEM competitions are key components of the grant,” said Kelley Quirk, program manager. “It provided the equipment and curriculum. Now just about every school has at least one team, and they compete throughout the school year.”
Quirk and four CWU students will accompany the GEAR UP teams to Louisville.
“Most of our students haven’t traveled much beyond their hometown, much less board a plane and travel across country,” Quirk noted. “This trip is as much of an education in exploring places beyond their hometown as learning how to program a robot.”
The students have already had a taste of international collaboration. They recently met with the robotics team from Haiti, who were visiting their sponsor at Seattle Prep. The Washington teams will meet up with the Haitian students again at the competition.
“In addition to the robotics competition, all of the competitors will be exclusive guests of Kentucky Kingdom Amusement Park for a culminating evening celebration on April 23,” Quirk added. “They’ll have a chance to talk to and get to know students from all over the world.”
CWU has received four GEAR UP grants since 2002. For more information about GEAR UP at CWU, go to
For more information about the VEX Robotics World Competition, go to