SDA, CCA students only Dean's List award winners at international robotics competition

Two North County students were recognized as the only “Dean’s List” award recipients at an international robotics competition in Idaho late last month.

Jana Roper, a junior at San Dieguito Academy, and Ronak Roy, a junior at Canyon Crest Academy, each were honored with the award at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) regional competition in Boise on March 31.

Jana explained the award recipients as students who "exemplify and show what FIRST is all about, which is spreading STEAM throughout your community and showing professionalism."

The two teens were the only competitors out of hundreds of high school students at the regional competition — from six states, Canada and China — who earned the distinction, which they were nominated for by their respective teams. Other FIRST regional competitions are held throughout the year in other parts of the country. Two students are honored at each competition.

Ronak said he and Jana were proud to represent North County collectively at the Idaho competition.

"It's incredible to see that all this hard work that we've put in has allowed us to enable our community to go further and be recognized on that world level," said Ronak, 16. "It's probably inspiring for many people from within San Diego to see that this kind of thing is possible."

The FIRST regional competition, held during the last week of March at the Taco Bell Arena in Boise, included 39 teams battling handmade robots head to head.

Jana, 16, led one of her team's design groups and is the team's head machinist. This was her sixth regional competition. Her team ranked 19th in Idaho.

Jana, who has always enjoyed working with her hands, said she’s honored to have won the award.

"That means all the stuff I do for the community and for my team have gotten recognized," Jana said. "It's not that I do it for recognition; it's really cool that there's an award other than just having the best robot or being the most communal as a team. It's great to be recognized on an individual level."

She said she's proud to be part of a spike of the number of women in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). Four years ago, there was only one female student on the team. Now, the 60-member group is evenly distributed between boys and girls.

Jana's mentors said the Encinitas teen was nominated because of her commitment to STEAM and for her three years of hard work on the team.

"She embodies the spirit of FIRST robotics and is 100 percent committed to Team Paradox," said Michelle Horsley, one of four mentors for the team. "She has given countless hours to designing vital components of our robots the past two years."

Darrahl Walton, another SDA mentor, considered Jana's nomination a "logical step" in her tenure on Team Paradox and said she will be missed when she graduates next year.

Ronak is his team's lead programmer. This was his sixth regional competition. His team placed fifth in Idaho and will move on to a world championship competition from April 18 to April 21 in Houston, Texas.

Ronak began learning computer programming in fourth grade, formed a robotics club in middle school and, most recently, has designed curriculum and volunteered to teach younger students about robotics.

"I knew how rewarding that was for me to watch hours of hard work realize into a tangible impact with a robot," he said. "Being on the mentoring side is even more rewarding than being on the learning side for me. Because so much of the future of our world is likely going to be dominated by programming and automation, especially with robotics, it's important that people early on gain an appreciation so they'll be ready for the jobs that we don't even know will exist in the future."

One of Ronak's mentors, Tyler Carter, said the Carmel Valley teen “leads by example.”

"He spends his time learning, teaching others and trying out new ideas that could help our team," Carter said. "We nominated him because we believe that students who work hard at pursuing their passion should be celebrated."

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