Holy Names Academy fields all-girls FIRST Robotics team

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
The Holy Names Academy FIRST robotics team was started by Allie Kieras, front left, and Molly Bucklin, front right. Their teammates in the middle row are: Alana Andrews, left, Isabel Jellen, Erin Graves, Alexa Andrews, Addie Boileau and Solene Daigle. Team members in the back row are Sophia Brusniak, left, Molly Flemming, Racquel West, Kate Peaquin and Sophie Loughlin. Photo: Eileen Denby The Holy Names Academy FIRST robotics team was started by Allie Kieras, front left, and Molly Bucklin, front right. Their teammates in the middle row are: Alana Andrews, left, Isabel Jellen, Erin Graves, Alexa Andrews, Addie Boileau and Solene Daigle. Team members in the back row are Sophia Brusniak, left, Molly Flemming, Racquel West, Kate Peaquin and Sophie Loughlin. Photo: Eileen Denby

SEATTLE – Students at Holy Names Academy are laying the groundwork for technology careers through their new robotics team.

The 13-member team from the Seattle girls’ school is the only all-girls team among 108 teams competing in the Washington FIRST Robotics program. (FIRST means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.) Even their robot is a girl — or at least named for one. 

For this year’s “Recycle Rush” competitions, each FIRST team was given a kit of components to build a robot that meets certain criteria.

“What is fun and difficult is there aren’t any directions,” said Molly Bucklin, a Holy Names senior who is a member of St. Monica’s Parish on Mercer Island. She started the team with Allie Kieras, a junior who is a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Burien.

The teens, who are considering computer science for their college majors, participated last summer in a Girls Who Code program that included trips to Amazon and Google. The summer experience is also where they heard about the robotics program, while looking for activities to expand their knowledge and experience in technical fields.

“Both of us were interested in engineering and robotics,” Kieras said. 

So they recruited classmates to form a FIRST team, making it the first all-girls team in several years (the Girl Scouts once had a team), according to Eric VanBuren, senior mentor for Washington FIRST.

Holy Names team members with robot“Hermione,” the robot built by the Holy Names Academy FIRST Robotics team, lifts a pair of containers as team members Molly Flemming and Racquel West operate the controls. The all-girls team will face off against other robotics teams in competitions March 20-22 and 26-28. Photo: Eileen Denby

In early January, each team received the materials to build a robot that can lift and stack shipping totes of specific dimensions. Among other factors, teams earn points for how high their robots can stack the totes.

VanBuren mentored the Holy Names students as they designed, programmed and built their robot under a specific time limit. The girls had a big learning curve, Bucklin said, because they didn’t have a lot of experience building things.

When they finished the robot in mid-February, there was a big discussion over what to call it. Bucklin said they decided to name it for a powerful woman and chose Hermione, the character in the “Harry Potter” series.

With the robot complete, the team participated in outreach activities with local Catholic elementary schools. They visited Immaculate Conception & Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Everett and later welcomed students from Seattle’s Christ the King School to the Holy Names campus to share their robot-building experiences.

Next up is the team’s first competition, March 20-22 at Shorewood High School in Shoreline, followed by a competition at Auburn High School March 26-28. All competitions are open to the public.

Holy Names joins the ranks of other Catholic high schools in the archdiocese with FIRST teams — Archbishop Murphy in Everett, Bishop Blanchet in Seattle and Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. Bellarmine’s team is the oldest in the state, VanBuren noted.

As one of five new teams this year, Holy Names has a chance of bringing home “Rookie of the Year” honors. Regardless of their performance, Kieras and Bucklin said, they are planning to recruit new members to participate next year.  

See a schedule of Washington FIRST Robotics competitions, which are open to the public.

Watch a KING 5 story about the Holy Names robotics team.