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Robotics Program Provides Business Experience

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Stryke Force

What began as a local homeschool project has grown into a national award-winning, corporate-sponsored robotics competition team called Stryke Force based right here in Kalamazoo in the Midlink Business Park.

Stryke Force's goal is to promote interest in science, engineering, and business among local middle and high school students. Nearly 65 middle and high school members represent 20 area schools. This coming season Stryke Force will not only train students to build robots for competitions, they will also prepare them for success in marketing, business plans, fundraising, and many other entrepreneurial skills.

The inspiration for the local team was created from the international model called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) founded by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and numerous other patented medical devices.

FIRST alumni are highly motivated to pursue careers in science and engineering, fulfilling Kamen's goal of inspiring the next generation of technological leaders. Founded in 1989, this year FIRST will serve more than 300,000 young people ages 6 to 18 in more than 50 countries around the globe.

Kalamazoo is the perfect place for this educational model to exist.

"Stryke Force is thriving in Kalamazoo because we have an amazing community backing us," said Kelsey Bruinwood, student high school leader for the Stryke Force Business Team.

"Our numerous sponsors provide us with financial and in-kind support and mentors, without which we wouldn t exist."

The growing bond between Stryke Force's two teams, the "Business Team" and the "Build Team" invites diversity and different skill sets to the table to strengthen both sides.

Not only can one not exist without the other in the real world, but each holds a prominent role in preparation for the competitions in the practice world. Translation? Any student passionate about building a successful future can participate.

Stryke Force's rookie year was in 2009. Led by home school teacher and coach Kim Bruinwood, they hit the ground running. They were presented with the Rookie All Star Award, the Rookie Inspiration Award, and the Highest Rookie Seed Award.

Stryke Force in action

In 2010, Stryker became a sponsor, and the team reached out to the community and had 15 students from various schools in the area. From 2011-14, the team, mentorships, and sponsorships grew steadily.

For the 2015 season, Stryke Force grew to include 29 students, 10 mentors, and 18 sponsors. It was a successful competition year.

"For the second time in Stryke Force's history we attended the world competition in St. Louis, Mo., advancing onto the quarter-finals," said Stryke Force coach Cory Walters, who has been involved with FIRST since 2002 and a coach since 2013.

"Michigan is a tough state to compete in," he said. "We have a wealth of engineering mentors and there are many teams to compete against in our own state."

Robot specs and games have just been released for the 2016 season. Now the preparation starts all over again.

Bruinwood and Walters agree that the main reason companies get involved is because one day they know these students may be working for them. Preparing students with robotics-building skills and how to market their inventions gives them a huge advantage in college and beyond. The fact that the preparation is all happening right here in Kalamazoo is a huge bonus.

"Many of our students comment on the fact that they are getting real life experience at such a young age," said Kelsey. "Being mentored by engineers and business professionals is an invaluable experience they won't get anywhere else. As our sponsorships increase, it is giving us the ability to reach more and more students."

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