Oak Harbor family to compete in world robotics championship

For the Serrantes kids, robots are a family matter.

Siblings Mikkel Josael Serrantes, Mikayla Jomika Serrantes, Misaella Jomiya Serrantes and Mikoilo Jomiko Serrantes make up MJS Robotics, an independent VEX Robotics team based in Oak Harbor. Participating in robotics comes with myriad benefits, including STEM experience, the chance to compete all over the country and, for this team, family bonding time.

The siblings first formed a robotics team in 2016. The original team comprised only the three oldest kids, Mikkel, Mikayla and Misaella, with their father, Joseph, acting as coach. Joseph, who recently retired from a 22-year Navy career, prompted his kids to start a robotics team in the hopes of getting them interested in STEM fields.

MJS Robotics has now competed as a team for six years, participating in tournaments across Washington. Joseph said the competitions are intense, each one lasting around nine hours and featuring hundreds of matches.

In VEX Robotics matches, the teams’ robots go up against one another in games determined at the beginning of the season. Competition days are so high-stress, Joseph said, that sometimes he and his kids can’t sleep the night before.

“Every time we’re on the competition, we feel like we’re going to have a heart attack,” he said.

Still, the intensity of the contests strengthens the team’s familial bond. All four siblings are now on the team. Though Mikkel, the oldest of the four siblings, has graduated and studies computer engineering at the University of Washington, he still participates as the team’s coach. Joseph said Mikkel’s programming knowledge has been valuable in his coaching, because he can help his younger siblings identify and fix problems when things go awry during tournaments.

Mikayla, a junior at Oak Harbor High School, is the team captain and primary builder, programmer and driver. Misaella, a fifth grader at Oak Harbor Intermediate, sets up materials needed in the games and serves as a backup driver. Mikoilo, a kindergartener at Hillcrest Elementary School, counts down the time remaining during competitions.

Mikayla, who plans to study computer engineering after high school, said being a team of siblings as opposed to friends or classmates gives MJS Robotics an advantage in competitions.

“You can communicate really easily compared to a team from your school,” she said.

Just as being a family is an asset in their robotics tournaments, being a robotics team also makes them a stronger family, she continued.

“Robotics helps us connect, not just as a team, but deeply, because you get along really easily,” she said. “Without robotics, I feel like we wouldn’t talk and strategize as much together.”

Last month, MSJ robotics competed in the Washington VEX Robotics High School State Championship, where they qualified to compete at the VEX Robotics World Championship May 4-7 in Dallas, Tex. Joseph said the world championship is “like a Super Bowl in robotics,” drawing competitors from all over the globe.

Misaella and Mikayla both said meeting new teams from different countries is one of their favorite parts of competing in robotics.

Joseph said he hopes that his kids’ team can inspire other Whidbey students, even those who have not participated in robotics before.

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