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Somerset seniors build robotics legacy

Somerset High School seniors Glenn Coerber, Kendra Castaneda, Haley Walters and Henry Thurber leave behind a legacy of learning, sharing, leadership and camaraderie. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

Glenn Coerber, Kendra Castaneda, Haley Walters and Henry Thurber graduated from Somerset High School June 3, 2018. Their graduation marks the end of an era for Somerset Robotics. Coerber, Walters and Thurber have been a part of the team from its inception in 2014, really before that if you count the tech ed courses Coach Eric Olson conducted at the middle school. Castaneda joined the team in time for its second season in 2015. The four seniors leave behind a legacy of learning, sharing, leadership and camaraderie. For the first time in the program's history, they sent a team to the Worlds competition in Louisville, Kentucky this past April. Even though that team was made up of all freshmen, anyone associated with the program, especially Olson, will tell you, that would not have been possible without the four seniors. Their experience and generosity made the opportunity possible for their teammates.

The four roboticists are the subject of the News' final graduation profile for 2018. The goal is to give you a feel for who they are as individuals before concluding with a tribute, in the true tradition of robotics, to the "hive" mind which placed Somerset Robotics on the map and paved the way for its future success.

All four seniors have wrapped up plans for life after high school.

Coerber intends to attend WITC where he plans to study system administration. He has already completed a semester of work thanks to the Youth Options program which enables him to earn college credit while in high school.

Castaneda plans to attend the Aveda Institute Minneapolis where she will study to become an esthetician. Estheticians are trained in various techniques which contribute to the health and beauty of the skin.

Walter is headed to the University of Wisconsin - River Falls where she intends to pursue a degree in elementary education.

Thurber will make the longest trek from home to study chemical engineering at the internationally recognized Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at the University of Iowa.

When it came to teachers who impacted their lives beyond academics, Coerber and Thurber both recognized Olson. His engineering and computer classes provided tools that could be employed on the robotics team and beyond.

"I know he's had a lot of influence on me and Henry through robotics. He's helped and encouraged us along the way and he treats us like adults so that's kind of nice," said Coerber.

Castaneda recognized Mary Anne Crawford, cherished teacher of French affectionately referred to as Madame by generations of SHS students.

Walters also recognized the foreign language department and in particular Ms. Sorenson, instructor of American Sign Language. Frequently a small class, Walters found herself one-on-one with Ms. Sorenson for the last three weeks of class.

"It was a small class. We were all pretty close," said Walters.

She also acknowledged Becky Olson, art teacher and Coach Olson's wife.

"She's always been really open about me being in the room and just chillin'," added Walters.

In addition to Coach Olson, Thurber recognized chemistry teacher Natalie Pollack and math teacher John Schultz.

"That kind of pushed me into chemical engineering rather than other fields of engineering," said Thurber.

When asked whether they were looking forward to the next step, more excited about the future or lamenting lost friends and the high school years, they had a variety of answers.

"It's a combination of both for me. I'm excited to move on and get out into the real world and begin working. But it's also sad to see all your friends go," said Coerber.

"I feel like once you turn 18, life's just there (right in front of you). You're used to watching Netflix from eight to midnight, and you can't do that anymore. I just realized this year, we're leaving. There's a little anxiety but it will be fine in the long run," said Castaneda.

"Fun fact, I'm literally the oldest and they all call me mom. I think the future looks promising. I'm not necessarily sad about leaving anymore realizing we'll be back. We promised to help with the tournaments next year," added Walters.

"My sister graduated last year and since then it's just been me at home. My parents have been bugging me for everything. Not everything but, I've been the focus. So it's time to get out. I'm happy to add a little distance," said Thurber.

The four seniors have a variety of interests that occupy their time outside of school.

As a participant in Scouting for many years, Coerber enjoys camping and hanging out with his fellow scouts.

"I'll probably be a scoutmaster for a while after high school, because they need some help," he said.

Coerber has also worked part time at Diverging Approach, Inc. since completing an internship there last summer.

"I basically CAD circuits for train crossings, design circuit plans for train crossings," explained Coerber.

Part time will become full time at DA this summer.

Everyone agreed, including Castaneda, that she is pretty attached to Netflix thanks to the use of friends' accounts.

"I go home and watch Netflix. Right now Glenn and I are watching Orange is the New Black. Before that, it was Gossip Girl. That was my favorite," said Castaneda.

Walters' bent to be responsible, "mom," proved to be legitimate.

"I work at Pizza Planet here in town. If I'm not working, I'm doing homework because I took too many classes. I'm really, really stressed right now, but it will be fine. Other than that, boyfriend, friends and bonfires," said Walters.

Thurber spent four years on the gridiron and two years on the track team. He is also a fan of Netflix.

"I was watching Shameless and then I stopped. I just finished four seasons of Arrested Development. It took me two weeks. Just had to binge it all the way. High school's been a good time," he said.

The following answers come from the "hive" mind where one senior answered on behalf of everyone to demonstrate how well they have come to know each other as a consequence of spending countless hours together working on their robots over the years.

The hangman is waiting. What would your last meal consist of?

"Appetizer of frosted animal crackers. There's white and pink frosting on them. Mongolian barbecue from Stillwater. They've got everything there and sushi because I like sushi. Soft shelled tacos from Taco Bell with one big, plate-size piece of lettuce at the end to cancel all the calories. Strawberry cheesecake, the heavy, cream cheese kind, hey, it's our last meal, and water and strawberry milk."

What is the hive listening to?

"Throwback to the years 1999 and 2000 and today's hits, whatever you'd hear on the radio, hip hop and pop and rap. No classical, heavy metal or country. Good thing I went through your Spotify list the other day."

Does the hive ever abandon Netflix for a movie at a theater and what is the longest the hive has binge watched Netflix?

"Fifty Shades Freed was the last movie at a theater. We like all the DC Marvel stuff too. Longest binge, 12 hours over spring break to watch all two seasons of Stranger Things. That was a long one. By keeping the headphones on, we were able to keep it on through bathroom breaks and snack runs downstairs."

What is your kryptonite?

"Applebee's lava cake. There's a hole in the middle filled with fudge or Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake or Half Baked ice cream. It's pretty bomb."

What are you taking away from the robotics team experience?

"It's meant a lot. I've learned a lot of skills in general. It exposed me to the technology field. It gave me a place to go and belong, a place where a lot of kids liked the kinds of things I liked. It's been super fun."

"It's been interesting going from freshman year all the way to senior year. Freshman year we had a terrible robot. Because we were trying everything, we were using a lot of trial and error. We were terrible in our first tournament, but we learned a ton, maybe the most of any of our years. It's been cool to see how we've progressed."

"All of the robots probably had a piece of ours in one way or another. Everyone has always learned from each other and shared everything."

"We learned to adjust on the fly, to think on our feet. That's a huge skill that you learn. Everything happens on the fly and you're under pressure most of the time."

"Everyone shares. It's been a good experience. It's helped me stay on track at school with grades and I also got to socialize a little bit. It's a place to come out of your shell, a community where you can bond with the whole team. It's cool."

For the last two years, the team's goal has been to get to Worlds. This year they accomplished that for the first time. That accomplishment has paved the way for the remaining and incoming underclassmen.

Describe yourself in one word.

"Organized, practical, self-kept, respectful."

What would each of you do with one wish?

Coerber: "I wish I took a few more college classes so I could get done quicker, or win the lottery."

Castaneda: "I wish I could have done better freshman year with grades and have homework count as part of the grades. I regret a lot of things. I'd like to rewrite the first year."

Thurber: "I'm between two things, stopping world hunger or paying for college fully and having money to do what you want with. I think I'd go with the money because with enough money I could stop world hunger, but I can't stop world hunger and get more money."

Walters: "I would like more time in the day. 48 hrs. would be great."

What is the one thing that everyone should have regardless of the cost?

Walters: "A family that loves you. My family is that so I know how valuable that is."

Coerber: "Friends, a place to belong, people who support you, people you can trust, a place where you can let your guard down."

Castaneda: "Netflix shouldn't cost $10 month. We have to spend money on snacks. It should be free."

Thurber: "Opportunity to do what they want with their life."

Listening to the stories of the four seniors, it became obvious that through the countless hours of preparation and competition, the hours after school, the many meals shared and the camaraderie born out of their passion to learn and improve, robotics is a family.

"We'd like to thank Mr. Olson for being coach and Becky just being there to watch us and all the parents. Thank you," Coerber said on behalf of the hive.