Ypsi middle school students win big at national Black engineers' convention

Ypsilanti Community Middle School (YCMS) brought home big honors from the Ten80 competition, which tests engineering and teamwork skills, at the National Society of Black Engineers Conference March 24-28 in Atlanta. YCMS' boys' and girls' teams both achieved wins, and the girls' team, Golden Grizzly, has been invited to advance to the next level in the competition.

Teams compete in a variety of Ten80-brand remote-control car races that emphasize speed, endurance, or teamwork. Student competitors can serve as drivers, communications specialists who write presentations for the judges, or pit crew members, replacing batteries and checking that wheels are on tight. Some races required participants to complete a lap the fastest, while others tested the battery life of the cars and how fast the pit crew could change out new batteries. A final challenge required each team to collaborate with another team, even swapping parts like batteries and wheels with their competitors.

One of the Ten80 cars used in the competition.
The Golden Grizzly team placed second overall in the middle school division. They won first place in race events, winning every race, and second in graphic design. The boys' team, Midnight Rush, finished fourth place overall, with a second-place finish in race events. Both teams were awarded the Ten80 Rookie Team Award. 

YCMS Principal Charles Davis says student team members were hand-picked for their grades, behavior, and aptitude for math. Other student teams had been practicing together for much longer before the competition, but his team had only had a little over five weeks to get in shape.

"I learned a lot of stuff about engineering, like teamwork [and] how to use cars," says eighth grader Leajah Turner, who served as pit crew. "It was difficult, but not as difficult as I thought it was going to be."

Davis notes that YCMS only recently established its own robotics club. He's hoping there will be crossovers between the club and Ten80, since the engineering skills students are learning will apply to both.

Most of the students had never flown in a plane or stayed in a hotel overnight, Davis says, but they'll have more travel opportunities in the future thanks to their recent win. He says he's proud of both teams but is especially excited for the girls since they are "a minority within a minority" as Black girls in engineering.

"We wanted to expose them, challenge them, and support them, so they could show everybody how exceptional they were," he says.

The Golden Grizzly team's next challenge is the Ten80 Racing Challenge 2024 national competition April 26-27 in Charlotte, N.C.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Golden Grizzly photo courtesy of Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Car photo by Sarah Rigg.
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