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LEBANON — It took a couple of tries, but Entek employees got the hang of shouting “ARRR!” like good pirates Wednesday afternoon.

Their enthusiastic mentors: members of the Lebanon FIRST Scalawags 1359 Robotics team, which demonstrated two of its hand-built robots in the company’s 30,600-square-foot fabrication area.

Kelly Cleveland, who along with her husband Brian, are team leaders, said the team is halfway through its six-week building period, with competitions beginning soon, and then district-, state- and even national-level contests.

Wednesday’s robots included rudimentary “Percival,” known as "Percy," and the “Rancid Squid," a bigger robot that can pick up objects, transfer them into bins and ultimately pull itself up into a vertical position.

“Rancy was in a winning alliance last year,” Cleveland said of the team’s district award.

Cleveland said this year’s team includes six seniors, and squad members are “super-excited.”

“The kids are going to get to tour the plant and to see the robotic packaging area,” she said. “They will get to see how robots work in the real world.”

Cleveland said most of the team members attend Lebanon High School and a couple are home-schooled, but membership is open to anyone in the county in grades 7 to 12.

Although many hours go into developing the robots — the objectives change every year — Cleveland said the contestants are filled with energy.

“They are like rock stars. Everyone is dancing and singing,” she said.

The program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is not funded by the school district.

Cleveland’s daughter, Jo, is 14, and the club's public relations spokesman.

“I love to create something that makes the world better,” the Lebanon High School freshman said. “These robots don’t, but the skills we learn from building them, can be used to do it. The kids who are building these robots could eventually make the world better.”

Team members aren't shy about telling their stories throughout the community, Jo said. These include visits to area schools, street fairs and the Boys & Girls Club.

“We let the kids drive the robots and get involved,” she said. “We are also working with kids in fourth through eighth grades and telling them about STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Melissa Jensen-Morgan is an example of that progression. She was on the first Lebanon FIRST robotics team in 2004, then went on to earn a mechanical engineering degree at Oregon State University, graduating in 2008.

She has worked at Entek as a design engineer for eight years. The company manufactures battery separator materials used worldwide. 

“This is great,” she said. “Being on the robotics team got me interested in engineering and also helped me earn a full-ride scholarship to OSU. I also interned at NASA.”

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Jensen-Morgan said the robotics team experience “has been instrumental in my life. I think it’s important for these kids to get excited about something in life. They learn so many things and make new friendships. They also gain confidence in so many ways.”

The Scalawags scavenge parts from robots to be used on the latest machines each year. Entek co-owner Kirk Hanawalt presented the team with a check for $350 to help out.

Team members have group and individual responsibilities.

Lebanon High senior Destin Dahlgren, 18, is involved with computer coding and programming.

“This is a massive learning opportunity,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in robotics, so this is right up my alley. It’s an extremely hands-on experience.”

Pairing the team with the mechanically minded Entek staff worked seamlessly. As soon as the demonstration was over and the team posed for pictures, Entek designers, fabricators and mechanics swarmed around the robots and began dissecting how they worked.

Technician Toby Daugherty called the team’s work “awesome.”

“I got to drive it and it was great,” he said. “I think they did a great job.”

Team members and their grades in school are: Allen Jasmer, 8; Austin Loveall, 8; Ben Tabor, 11; Carrie Cleveland, 12; Dagan Button, 9; Destin Dahlgren, 12; Greg Nielsen, 12; Greg Walker, 10; Jadon Roth, 12; Josie Cleveland, 9; Kegan Maire, 10; Kelli Lane, 8; Kelton Brusilind, 12; Matthew Ewing, 12; Molly Theodoroff, 7; Moriah Dahlgren, 9; Rebecca Munk, 11; Ryan Roberts, 12; Wallace Becker, 8; Zar Grimes, 12.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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