Building his future: Junior competes in Destination Imagination, robotics

Junior Matt McClain remains after school with his team for one reason: to build a robot. McClain not only participates in robotics, but also Destination Imagination at Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Park, Texas.

Emma DeKay

Junior Matt McClain remains after school with his team for one reason: to build a robot. McClain not only participates in robotics, but also Destination Imagination at Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Park, Texas.

By Grace Kimball, Vista Ridge HS, Cedar Park, Texas

He tilts his head, staring at the hastily drawn models filling the whiteboard. His eyebrows furrow in concentration as he looks for a solution. However, the long lines of desks are empty and the clock is far past 3:45 p.m. even though it’s a Thursday. Junior Matt McClain remains after school with his team for one reason: to build a robot. McClain not only participates in robotics, but also Destination Imagination.  In both teams, he finds solutions and new ways of thinking that can help him in everyday life. McClain balances homework and frequent team meetings with free time and friends.

“A lot of times you have to do things other than school work and just hang out with your friends and do something you love to do,” McClain said. “Both teams are just a great experience. I think everyone should have some kind of extracurricular.”

Sophomore year, McClain was introduced to the world of robotics by one of his teachers. After joining a team, he saw how challenging the process could be.

“The hardest part of robotics is thinking up ideas that fit within our time constraints and with what we can actually do and actually building it,” McClain said. “A lot of the time the parts don’t always work how you want them to. It’s a challenge but it’s usually something we can overcome together.”

McClain’s other team, Destination Imagination, or DI, is a creative program where students take part in challenges in categories like technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, structural and service learning. McClain has been doing DI since his freshman year.

“My first year I was the youngest, so it was kind of intimidating,” McClain said. “After a while I got used to them and it was a lot of fun. Then the next year, sophomore year, it was kind of like a family. We became really close because we went all the way to Globals and through all the hardships and challenges.”

McClain and his team competed in each of the round of the DI competitions and advanced all the way to the Global portion of the competition in Knoxville, Tenn., where the team placed sixth place McClain’s freshman year and ninth place his sophomore year. Now the team experiments with new ideas and angles in hopes of making it to Globals this year as well.

“We used to be mainly engineer driven but now we’re more theatrically driven, doing more challenges with acting,” McClain said. “It adds a new dynamic to the team.”

Between team meetings and school work, McClain is very busy. He stays after school every day with his robotics team, constructing and planning a robot that can conquer obstacles. The junior spends about six hours a week preparing for DI competitions. On top of that he must complete all his school work, but his parents don’t mind his busy schedule.

“What my dad says is that as long as I’m passing my classes he’s fine with me doing any extracurricular things, and he likes the fact that I’m able to do this and have fun,” McClain said. “My mom is completely supportive because she likes the idea of me having fun.”

In the end, both teams have taught valuable lessons to McClain and his teammates.  Not only has he learned to work with others well but has acquired skills that can apply to life outside of his teams.

“They help teach team building skills. In both teams it helps me learn different building techniques and engineering,” McClain said. “I’ve really improved in those areas after being on these teams. I’ve also learned about acting, improvisation and thinking skills.”

The many hours of hard work and fun were all worth it according to McClain who continues to work with these teams this year. He found a path for himself through these programs and encourages others to as well.

“Both programs are a lot of fun,” he said, “If you can, join because we do need more members. It gives you an outlet to express yourself. It becomes like a family so you can always vent to your friends about school and just hang out and have fun.”

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