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Robotics program has brought success to DL grad now headed to NDSU engineering

Patrick Link learned a lot from the robotics program he helped to bring to Detroit Lakes High School.

When recent Detroit Lakes High School graduate Patrick Link and his parents started investigating the best avenue to an engineering career, they couldn't have known they would soon be jump-starting a program that would be one for the school history books.

"He's always been a builder," said Patrick Link's mother, Pat, "So in talking to an NDSU engineering professor about how to prepare for this, he suggested getting involved with a robotics team."

The problem was, there wasn't one in Detroit Lakes.

But when Link talked to his high school science teacher, he told him there had already been somebody else inquiring about starting up a robotics team -- a local woman named Debbie Janzen.

"When I heard about robotics, I thought it'd be something my son, Jacob, would be interested in," said Janzen, "maybe something that could open up some doors he didn't even know were there."

Janzen called Link and some other high school students she knew to see if she could get something going.

With Janzen and her son, Jacob, Link, a handful of volunteer mentors and two handfuls of students, the QWERTY team (that's what they named themselves, after a computer keyboard layout) began in the 2009-2010 school year.

They worked on building the team, building the robots and building friendships.

Patrick Link led the way.

They didn't come in last at their competitions, but that's about all they want to say about it, laughing.

But exponential growth and teamwork made for a big surprise for the small, novice team during the 2010-2011 school year, as the QWERTY won the championship in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) state competition -- sending them to nationals.

Team Captain Patrick Link was not only on cloud nine, "It was so cool to see it take off like it did," but his efforts were about to pay off -- literally.

Known for its motto: "It's not just about the robot", the FIRST organization doled out opportunity in the form of scholarships, and Link was on the list.

"I got a $2,000 scholarship," said Link.

The FIRST organization also offered to fly Link and his parents to Detroit, Michigan to meet with top engineers in the GATES Corporation.

"I didn't go, though, because I'm pretty busy with work," said Link.

The recent grad is working a summer landscaping job before heading off to NDSU in the fall.

He says he's certain being a part of the robotics team will help him tremendously in the engineering program.

"One of our mentors that works as an engineer for BTD told us that the things we were doing with robotics, he was doing at work," said Link, "All the machine parts were identical, programming ... it was all pretty much the same, so I know it's giving us huge employment opportunities down the road."

Money, networking and career opportunities all seem to follow robotics students, but Link's mother, Pat, says it gave him even more than that.

"It's been great for his confidence level," said Pat, who along with her husband, Jerry, volunteered with the team.

"He's had to do public speaking, he's had to solicit funds for the team -- they really know how to get these kids out of their little box, out of their comfort zone, so that's been great."

Link says because he will be in Fargo, he probably won't be able to mentor the Detroit Lakes robotics team next year, but he does intend to mentor a group of students in Fargo who are interested in starting up a team.

"It's a great way to have some fun with people your age and get something on your resume that gets noticed -- because it does," said Link.

So while Link prepares for his promising college career, he also prepares to hand the torch to next year's senior captain, Jacob Conway -- the same young man Janzen originally wanted to help open doors for before realizing she was helping others do the same thing.

"He'll do great," said Link, "to be a captain of this team you just have to listen to all the team members and keep an open mind, and I think that won't be too hard for him."

But before Link hangs up his tools in Detroit Lakes, he'll have one, last hurrah with the team he helped build.

"We've got a booth at the Becker County Fair at the end of July, so we'll be out there doing demonstrations."

That's scheduled for July 28 and 29 at the Becker County Fair Grounds.

There will also be a sign-up sheet for students interested in "building" their future with QWERTY.

For more information on the team, call Debbie Janzen at 701-388-9697.