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Two Harbors girl honored in St. Louis

Jeni and Brynn Torgerson in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Jeni.1 / 4
Brynn at the Robotics world competition in St. Louis.2 / 4
The St. Louis arch.3 / 4
The founder of FIRST Robotics speaks at a luncheon honoring the dean's list candidates. Photo courtesy of Jeni.4 / 4

On April 24, Two Harbors Robotics team member Brynn Torgerson arrived in St. Louis, Mo., for the Robotics World Championships. She wasn't with her team, though — she was going it alone as a dean's list finalist.

Torgerson was nominated by her coach, Lauren Burton, for the honor. Each robotics team in the competition nominates a team member, and after interviews at regional competitions, a handful are selected as finalists and invited to St. Louis.

"Not having a pit to go back to was kind of weird," she said of being at the huge competition on her own. "The (Duluth) East team was really great and they took me under their wing."

Dean's list students are chosen for their outstanding leadership, passion and effectiveness. Torgerson's mom, Jeni, went on the trip with her. She said it was great to see her daughter honored.

"Brynn is very driven to get things accomplished ... she just kind of took on a role on the team of coordinating everything," Jeni said. "It makes me very proud."

Brynn said a highlight of her trip to St. Louis was hearing Dean Kamen speak at a luncheon for the dean's list finalists. He's best known for being the inventor of the Segway and founding the high school robotics organization, FIRST, with Woodie Flowers, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They started FIRST to foster interest in science, math, engineering and technology, and it governs high school robotics.

"He talked about how important it is for the incoming generation to get involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and how that's revolutionizing the world and we are the future," Brynn said.

She is a junior this year, and said she plans to study biomedical engineering in college. Her experience in robotics has helped her see this as a viable goal, she said.

"I've always really liked science but I kind of looked at it as unattainable," she said. "But it's normal people who are going out and doing these things. That really got me interested in engineering."

Her mom Jeni agreed that Kamen's talk, as well as those from other superstars in the STEM fields, were inspiring and motivating.

"It really got us pumped up for college," she said. "It just really hammered it home that she can absolutely do (biomedical engineering)."

Brynn is a poster child for FIRST's goal of inspiring kids to pursue STEM careers, but that's not all the program is about. Jeni said they experienced another core tenet of the robotics program in St. Louis. Since they were without another team, they had to find others with which to spend the long weekend. Brynn bonded with the Duluth East team and Jeni spent some time with a group of team parents from Rochester, N.Y., but everywhere they went, there was a friendly face.

"They talk about gracious professionalism all the time and you can see it," Jeni said. "It's just so friendly. It's like they're a big robot family."

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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