Fairfax County all-girls robotics team bound for world championship

An all-girl robotics team from Fairfax County is about to represent Virginia and D.C. at an international competition featuring space innovation and STEM inspiration.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Fusion Four team member Ema Hrabak, 12, of Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. “It’s one of the hardest states to win … 82 teams competed in the state’s competition for Virginia and D.C.”

Fusion Four will compete in the 2019 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League World Championship in Detroit, Michigan, to be held April 24 to 27 in the Division One level, for teams from third to seventh grade.

The status of being an all-girl team got Fusion Four rock star-type attention when they won the state championship last December.

“It is a very heavily male competition. Yes, there are girls who compete, but it’s very rare to see an all-girl team,” said Michael Hrabak, one of the team’s three coaches. “And the four girls got so many compliments and people coming up to them — for being all girls.”

Team members Ema Hrabak, Devon Rudolph, Minah Sisco and Reira Erickson have known each other since elementary school. Three of the four go to Lake Braddock Secondary School. Rudolph attends Robinson Secondary School, in Fairfax, Virginia.

Fusion Four, the Grand Champion team from the Virginia-D.C. States Competition at James Madison University on Dec. 2, 2018: Devon Rudolph, Emma Hrabak, Minah Sisco, and Reira Erickson. (Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco)
Fusion Four, the Grand Champion team from the Virginia-D.C. States Competition at James Madison University on Dec. 2, 2018: Devon Rudolph, Emma Hrabak, Minah Sisco, and Reira Erickson. (Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco) (GwHafXH1UqOc3BgJ7woPatI0j08hH9HQ/Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco)
Emma Hrabak and Reira Erickson test their robot and program during a practice run at the Regionals Competition, held at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
Emma Hrabak and Reira Erickson test their robot and program during a practice run at the Regionals Competition, held at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak) (GwHafXH1UqOc3BgJ7woPatI0j08hH9HQ/Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
Minah Sisco and Devon Rudolph watch their robot complete missions successfully at the state competition, held at James Madison University on Dec. 2, 2018. (Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco)
Minah Sisco and Devon Rudolph watch their robot complete missions successfully at the state competition, held at James Madison University on Dec. 2, 2018. (Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco) (GwHafXH1UqOc3BgJ7woPatI0j08hH9HQ/Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco)
Reira Erickson, Minah Sisco, Devon Rudolph and Emma Hrabak used a skit to present the research project portion of their entry at the regional competition at Hayfield High School, in Alexandria, Virginia. The project assignment was to develop a safer system for astronauts conducting untethered spacewalks. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
Reira Erickson, Minah Sisco, Devon Rudolph and Emma Hrabak used a skit to present the research project portion of their entry at the regional competition at Hayfield High School, in Alexandria, Virginia. The project assignment was to develop a safer system for astronauts conducting untethered spacewalks. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak) (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
The Fusion Four team gives a thumbs-up after a successful robot practice run at the regional competition at Hayfield High School. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
The Fusion Four team gives a thumbs-up after a successful robot practice run at the regional competition at Hayfield High School. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak) (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
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Fusion Four, the Grand Champion team from the Virginia-D.C. States Competition at James Madison University on Dec. 2, 2018: Devon Rudolph, Emma Hrabak, Minah Sisco, and Reira Erickson. (Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco)
Emma Hrabak and Reira Erickson test their robot and program during a practice run at the Regionals Competition, held at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
Minah Sisco and Devon Rudolph watch their robot complete missions successfully at the state competition, held at James Madison University on Dec. 2, 2018. (Courtesy Jo Hee Sisco)
Reira Erickson, Minah Sisco, Devon Rudolph and Emma Hrabak used a skit to present the research project portion of their entry at the regional competition at Hayfield High School, in Alexandria, Virginia. The project assignment was to develop a safer system for astronauts conducting untethered spacewalks. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)
The Fusion Four team gives a thumbs-up after a successful robot practice run at the regional competition at Hayfield High School. (Courtesy Merrie Joy Hrabak)

“We have different strengths, talents and weaknesses,” Ema Hrabak said — explaining what inspired the team name. “We fuse our talents together … to make the perfect team.”

The team logo features the girls’ interests outside of FIRST Lego League. Hrabak likes to play violin; Sisco is a swimmer; Rudolph is a runner, and Erickson enjoys taekwondo.

The First Lego League challenge consists of three parts: The Robot Game, Core Values and The Project. The team successfully built and programmed a robot made out of Legos, and the core value of cooperating while having fun in a competition was displayed during the presentation of the team’s project.

The 2018-2019 season focus is Into Orbit, covering anything related to problems facing astronauts in outer space.

The challenge Fusion Four decided to tackle for its project was to come up with a safer system for astronauts conducting untethered spacewalks. Hrabak’s mom, Merrie Joy Hrabak, said the way the team presented its research project contributed to the win, and will help at the world championship.

“The girls have to present their research project to the judges, and instead of just walking up and presenting it like a research paper, they dressed up and put on an entire skit,” Hrabak said. “They like performing and they brought in their personalities.”

The skit depicts a news anchor, NASA Mission Control and two astronauts who had broken free from their tether. It explains how the system created by Fusion Four would bring the astronauts back to safety.

“All their research, all the hours of hard work — they presented it in this adorable skit,” Merrie Joy Hrabak said.

As parents, Merri Joy and Michael are proud of how hard Ema and all the girls have worked, all they’ve accomplished, and how they’ve pushed and supported each other.

“They’re good to each other. They’re good for each other,” Merrie Joy Hrabak said. “Yes, they’re learning and they’re growing and they’re winning, but what they’re doing for each other as they go through life — that’s the most important part right now.”

It’s also exciting to think about what the future might hold.

“It’s steep competition, because literally the entire word comes to compete in Detroit,” Michael Hrabak said. “This is huge … they’ll be competing against South Korea, China, Russia, France, the Netherlands, any country that you can basically imagine.”

Regardless of how the world competition turns out, the Fusion Four team has an ongoing mission.

“One of our main goals is to inspire younger people, especially girls, to work in the STEM industry,” Ema Hrabak said. “That’s one of our big goals and our big motivations.”

Fusion Four is raising money for its trip with a GoFundMe page. The team is also holding a car wash at the Exxon station at 5239 Rolling Road in Springfield on the morning of Saturday, April 6.

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