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Winter Soldiers

The Winter Soldiers, a robotics team that includes public school and home schooled students from Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf, competed in the FIRST Championship, a global robotics competition, last month.

Ramya Banda is proud of her robotics team and all they accomplished competing against some of the best robotic teams in the world.

Banda, 18, a senior at Pleasant Valley High School, is a member of the Winter Soldiers, a team of 14 public and home-school students from Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf.

The team, whose members range in age from 13 to 18, competed in the FIRST Championship, a world-wide robotics competition, in Detroit last month. Winter Soldiers qualified for the competition by winning the Inspire Award at the state level championship Feb 24, and then the Innovate award for robot design at the Super Regionals Tournament March 15-16.

There were 15,000 students on 700 teams from 37 countries competing in Detroit, according to the FIRST website, Working against the clock and with limited resources, the teams had to design, build and program robots according to a set challenge. They are judged on skills beyond engineering and science, including teamwork and soft skills.

Banda said it's been a great experience.

“This helps me to communicate and learn how to communicate with others. I saw the impact of things,” Banda said of the team and competition. “And also it helps you think in a creative way and you have an actual problem to solve.”

Sravanthi Vedula, a business analyst for Deere & Co., has coached the team for four years. “This is the first time they have advanced to Worlds and it was an amazing experience,” she said.

Janene Murphy, a substitute teacher, is a co-coach, and the team has two mentors -- both engineers at John Deere -- Jagadish Vashista and Paul Yaklin.

Murphy, whose son, Joe Murphy, is on the team, said the Worlds experience was fantastic for everyone.

“They did keep us busy,” she said. “There were times we would go out to eat together and walk along the river and see the sites. But it was also about getting to know the other students. It is a wonderful way to connect with other teams. There is a competitive nature to this, but teams also work together.”

Vedula's son, Varun, 17, is a junior at PVHS. He joined the Winter Soldiers team in the eighth grade.

“I started robotics when I was really young,” he said. “It is one of the ways to apply science and math into play. I enjoy technology a lot. “I want to be an engineer of some type. I was raised in a STEM-based household. My dad has his own team, which was created for my younger brother, Tarun, who is in the eighth grade. At the Worlds competition, it was quite overwhelming. We got to meet so many other people.”

Pat Barnes, program director for the Global Youth Program at Deere, said Deere is a strategic partner of FIRST and supported 618 FIRST teams in six countries this year. He called FIRST "the world’s leading child-serving nonprofit advancing science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM."