St. Catherine of Siena's all-girls robotics team turning heads at state level

The “Constellations,” the nickname for St. Catherine of Siena High School's all-girls robotics team, shows off their team jackets during a FIRST Robotics team competition last year. Now in the program's second year, the 16-member team hopes to reach even greater heights in a traditionally male-dominated activity. (Photos courtesy of St. Catherine of Siena High School)

'Constellations' earn multiple awards during inaugural season, set sights on growing robotics program in year two

WIXOM — In his 1987 encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, St. John Paul II once said, “The Church sees in the face of women … limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; and the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement.”

One could say the saintly pope’s words are being realized within the walls of St. Catherine of Siena High School in Wixom. 

But to stop there would be remiss. In fact, they’re coming to fruition within the walls of arenas all over the state, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the St. Catherine of Siena robotics team, whose inaugural season last year included successfully breaching all of the new team's self-made goals. 

After finishing in the quarterfinals of the team's first competition last year, the Stars' robotics squad went on to win numerous accolades among FIRST Robotics competition awards, including the Imagery Award, which “celebrates attractiveness in engineering and outstanding visual aesthetic integration of machine and team appearance” and the highly lauded Rookie All Star award.

The St. Catherine of Siena robotics team poses with their completed project during the World Robotics Championship last year at Cobo Hall (now called the TCF Center). 

Now, with one “season” under their belt, physics teacher and moderator Katie Brandt, and the other adult mentors — many of whom bring years of experience and enthusiasm — have their team shooting for the proverbial stars.

The 16-member team, made up of students from the 280-student all-girls school, has already begun painstaking preparations for the coming season. 

According to Beth Ganss, second lead coach, “having such success in our inaugural season is extraordinary. And it speaks volumes about the mantra of St. Catherine’s Academy, to set the world ablaze.”

Last season, judges from around the world watched as the all-girl team took the floor, after having designed jackets, cheers, and a comprehensive marketing program that included stellar imagery.

After securing grant money and sponsorships last season, the Constellations — the team's nickname — hope to attain similar funding to aid in the season's expenses. The team is praying for donors to help the girls advance their mission in what might have been traditionally seen as a male-dominated activity.

The girls were required not only to develop a concept from scratch, but come up with marketing concepts, a viable brand and team spirit, Brandt and Ganss said.

St. Catherine's robotics team has turned quite a few heads in the local robotics scene, leading several of the girls to consider careers in mechanical or biomedical engineering.

This year’s team is replete with “leaders:” young women who are required to take the reigns of their “company” and lead it from concept to reality.

“With Robotics, we are truly expected to run a business, from soliciting sponsors, to imagery, to execution,” said Gina Adragna, a senior at St. Catherine and a team captain.  

Adragna said she has received positive feedback about her involvement with robotics from numerous college advisers, and counselors have been “thrilled” to speak with her about her involvement in the group.

Sophomore Violet Reader is a first-year member of the team. She says the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the girls, who are truly challenged to work as a team, are what drew her to get involved. There is a real “team dynamic” that requires everyone to pull their own weight, she said.

Senior and business team captain Namitha John added the team’s success, particularly the “Rookie All Star” award, as well as the challenges the team has overcome, prompted her to take a second look at a career in mechanical or biomedical engineering. When asked how the team has affected her overall high school experience, she smiled and praised the work of Brandt and the other mentors. 

According to John, St. John Paul II’s words ring true, and are beginning to leaven the culture with much more than a rich spirituality. 

“The feminine genius I’ve learned about at this school has allowed me to excel in more ways than I could have ever imagined, outside its doors,” John said.

St. Catherine herself couldn’t have said it better.