As members of S.H.I.R.T., the Stephenson High International Robotics Team, they design, build and program robots to compete against schools around the county.
Yuri said he grew up as a Lego baby.
“When I was 5, I had a set of 300 pieces and I made my mom stay up with me all night putting it together,” said the 17-year-old who lives in Lithonia.
Over the years, Yuri’s interest in the building blocks evolved into a love for complex systems and technical design. He joined the robotics club in the 10th grade after taking an engineering course at Stephenson.
The club now has three members – Yuri, Simisola, and Grant Carter, who is 15.
S.H.I.R.T. is part of a league of DeKalb middle and high school teams that compete at events hosted by Vex Robotics, a provider of robotics design systems for classrooms.
Vex League members compete in matches over a three-month season, between November and February.
Competition challenges vary annually. During the 2012-2013 competitions, teams demonstrate a robot that is able to grasp bean bags, then place them at various positions for different point values.
S.H.I.R.T.’s current creation is a four-motor powered arm with a dual-motor drive train, a total of four high-strength motors and four low-strength motors, and an arm powered by three gears wrapped in tank treads that spins to swallow up sacks into a metal tray.
S.H.I.R.T. topped out at 37 points during its Jan. 16 match, which ranked it sixth among DeKalb’s 47 teams. Simisola said that it was gratifying to see his design come to life.
“I like programming and software, and things that are really meticulous,” he said.
He plans to study electrical engineering at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta and hopes to work for a company like IBM or Google.
“To get into companies like that, you have to have a certain standard. And I strive to reach that standard,” he said. “I don’t want to be ordinary or average because it makes me feel like I’m going to be stuck with regular problems that everybody else is stuck with.”
Yuri said he wants to become a mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin or BMW.
Both seniors are worried about the future of their club next year.
Over the past four months, the club struggled when adviser Garry Brown fell ill in late October and has been on medical leave of absence.
“We missed probably like four or five events that we actually qualified for and could have gone to but couldn’t because we didn’t have a chaperon,” Simisola said.
After the two seniors graduate in May, only one member will remain to continue representing the school in competitions. S.H.I.R.T. members have to be engineering students who complete a required class. With the school’s lone engineering teacher on medical leave, there are no students in the pipeline to join the club.
“I try to teach him in the best way possible because there’s a chance that the robotics team might not even be here next year,” Yuri said.
Simisola said if it’s a club of one, the school is going to shut it down.
“He can’t do it by himself, whether he wants to or not,” he said.
After attending a districtwide technology fair last year and seeing S.H.I.R.T. in action, the South DeKalb Rotary Club stepped in to try to help prevent that from happening.
The club donated $1,000 to the robotics club in 2012 and gave $450 in January.
Club treasurer William Murrain said it’s important to be supportive.
“We want to encourage our young people to become more involved with science and technology and the careers of today and tomorrow,” Murrain said.
In an effort to recruit more members, Yuri and Simisola are encouraging fellow students to pursue an interest in STEM.
“You always want to get yourself diverse with everything because in the future, jobs are so threatened with this economy you always need to have a backup,” Simisola said, “The person who knows about robotics could become the next millionaire who created a ground-breaking medical invention.”
The students plan to return to Stephenson during their summers and college breaks to help the team prepare for competitions.
“Something like this … you can’t buy this with money,” Simisola said. “The knowledge that you get from building things like that is priceless. Losing things like this is like losing parts that can make your school better.”