This time of year has been a blur for Laura and Troy Wancha. They spend many hours mentoring students to be successful with their robotics team and traveling around the state to various FIRST Robotics events.
And the couple wouldn’t have it any other way. Laura, who is an IT analyst at Consumers Energy, has been involved with Jackson-area FIRST Robotics teams for the past four years. She has helped her son Ethan’s middle school robotics team at Jackson Northwest and Team 4216 Blue Ops Robotics from East Jackson High School.
“This program can change kids,” Laura said. “I have seen shy kids open up after one season of FIRST Robotics. And what’s great, they try something new and different and they find out they like it and are good at it. And the icing on the cake is they can make a career out of it.”
Laura has helped in the pit and has scouted other teams as part of her duties with East Jackson. So far, she has raised $1,000 from the Consumers Energy Foundation’s VIP grant program that recognizes the volunteerism of employees and retirees. Also included in the VIP grant for the East Jackson team were Kevin Furlong and Greg Stevenson.
Laura is now teaming up for the first time with the Mountie MegaBots Team 7197 at Northwest High School as her son Ethan will participate as an eighth grader. Troy is also helping the team.
“It’s so cool for my husband, Ethan and I to be working together to build a robot,” she said. “We really are creating some great memories. The years are really flying by, and I want us to enjoy this time together.”
Troy Wancha works at a Jackson-based robotics and automation company that creates robotic welding cells. He started helping out the East Jackson team when a co-worker asked him to put his engineering skills to the test and help his daughter’s team.
“That was nine years ago,” she said. “And we have been in love with robotics ever since. It’s been an honor to help out, and I don’t think we will stop anytime soon.”
Wancha said the intensity of FIRST Robotics competitions match that of any high school sporting event.
“It’s been a terrific experience for us,” she said. “And to see these students given opportunities they may not have received otherwise – like college scholarships and job offers – it’s just really great to be part of something so special.”
Consumers Energy is proud to sponsor FIRST Robotics STEM-related activities that support science, technology, engineering and math. In 2019, Consumers Energy and the Consumers Energy Foundation contributed more than $450,000 to support STEM programs, including FIRST teams at elementary, middle school and high school levels across the state. In addition, several employees and retirees also serve as volunteers and mentors with various teams and events.