Umatilla Robotics Team highlighted in documentary

UMATILLA, Ore. – It’s been four years since Big Dreams in Umatilla was shot, but Megan Lorence still remembers it clearly.

“It was really interesting, and it’s still a little surreal,” Lorence, who was a senior at the time of filming, said.

Blue Chalk Media followed the film through their 2016 season. The club was started by Superintendent Heidi Sipe in 2012.

“Just really goes through all the various challenges that they face in any given season and also shows them making it to the world finals which they’ve done a number of times,” she said.

“The highs and lows of competition, where you think you’re doing really well or if things are going bad and you’re persevering,” Megan added.

In 2016, the team was given six weeks to build a robot with assigned parameters.

“So it had to cross all these different obstacles and then shoot dodge balls into a castle. So, we get that and then you have to develop a strategy for what type you wanna be and what you wanna build,” Megan said.

Eventually, the team goes to a huge competition. Megan said while their robot performed okay, their impact on the community was greater.

“That year a lot of our success came from our ability of what our team does outside of just building the robot but being a part of our community,” Megan said.

In a town with barely over 7,000 people, the documentary focuses on the perseverance of these students, despite their location.

“Well I hope that the very things I appreciate about our community; the way it truly cares for our students and the way they pull together for students to make things happen for kids comes through strongly in the film,” Heidi said.

“Being a part of the robotics team was one of the most memorable things in my high school experience,” Megan added.

Megan is now a fifth grade teacher and helps coach the robotics team. She said many of her classmates went on to study careers in STEM and some, still help with the team. Heidi’s daughter and husband are also a part of the team, which is divided into different branches.

Big Dreams in Umatilla premieres on January 11th at 9 PM on the Oregon Public Broadcasting.