For BLHS senior Lily Hoopes, robotics is a passion and family affair

If you ask Lily Hoopes how she first got involved with Panther Robotics at Bonney Lake High School, she’ll remember the High School Curriculum and Activities Showcase event about four years ago. 

“My mom kind of pushed me toward joining the robotics team because I’ve always been a STEM-type person,” said Lily, now a senior at Bonney Lake High School. “The toys I’d always used to have were STEM kits or little robots.”

With some encouragement from her mom, Allison Hoopes, Lily joined as a freshman with the club, and it stuck. She’s been a member ever since. 

Along the way, her family has become a big part of the club, too.

“Since it’s such a highly involved club, my mom first got into it supporting everyone with meals,” Lily said.

Lily’s stepdad is a programming mentor for the students. Her stepbrother is a 10th grader on the programming team along with her younger brother, Max, an 8th grader at Mountain View Middle School who was able to join the club early. 

At Bonney Lake High School, robotics is both a class and a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO). If students decide they want to extend their learning beyond what they learn in the classroom, they can join the CTSO, Panther Robotics. 

Panther Robotics is led by Jason Vander Hoek, who also teaches robotics and engineering at Bonney Lake High School. 

Being a member of Panther Robotics is a commitment. The club is a FIRST Robotics team, which means that each year the team — and teams around the world — are tasked with designing, programming and building a robot to play in a themed head-to-head challenge. Teams don’t know what their robot needs to do until the launch of the season, which usually begins in early January. 

Once the season begins, Panther Robotics meets three times a week: Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On school days, they work from right after school until 9 p.m.

That’s because there’s a lot to do. They strategize how they want their robot to operate, prototype their robot using computer-aided design (CAD) software (“We do lots and lots of prototyping,” said Lily), then start developing their subsystems with aluminum to make it look fancy. 

“After that, we send our completed robot to the programmers, and they bring it to life,” said Lily.

Lily works often with CAD systems, developing features of the robot like an arm or a collector — whatever the group thinks might achieve the robot’s task in the game.

“There’s lots of ways the robot can go,” she said. 

And the time is limited. Teams have six weeks to create their robot before their first competition.

“We put a lot of time and effort into it,” Lily said. “Seeing our robot on the field in a competition is the best part, because it’s like all of our hard work has paid off.” 

Last year, Bonney Lake High School hosted a FIRST Robotics district competition, with 32 school teams and over 1,000 students, teachers, mentors and families in attendance. BLHS will again host the district competition this year.

Also last year, Panther Robotics won the FIRST Robotics District Championship in Cheney, Wash., that sent them to their third appearance at the FIRST Robotics World Championships in Houston, Texas. There, they ended their season 35 out of 75 teams in their division at Worlds, just missing the playoffs. 

Committing to the team means that you can go really far in the robotics world.

“The advice I would give to any incoming robotics members is to just commit and be super involved, and that’s because the more you put into something, the more you get out of it,” she said. 

Lily has certainly been involved. Outside of her regular Panther Robotics meetings, she’s also participated in Girls Generation, a FIRST Robotics competition composed of teams with members from underrepresented communities in STEM. She also helped at the first-ever Summer Robotics Camp last summer, an event planned by BLHS students who taught the basics of programming to 3rd-5th graders.  

After graduation, Lily plans to go to college to continue her STEM education and eventually work in the field. 

“I’m thinking of a technical project manager, or a STEM teacher,” she said.