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All-girl Massachusetts team takes gold at SkillsUSA®

2016 Urban Search & Rescue

Published September 30, 2016

At a glance

  • Rachel Arnold and Olivia Klotz took gold at the 2016 SkillsUSA® national championships.
  • The team's robot and presentation impressed the judges.
  • Both ladies are proud to represent women in engineering.

LOUISVILLE, KY – Two young ladies joined forces this year for the SkillsUSA Robotics: Urban Search & Rescue competition – a male-dominated arena – and proved that they could take the lead and continue a legacy.

Rachel Arnold and Olivia Klotz, both now seniors at Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Upton, Massachusetts, took the gold at the 2016 SkillsUSA national championships. Though this was their first appearance at nationals, half the team wasn’t new to USAR. Last year, Rachel and her former teammate took bronze at state, being beaten out by her big brother, Dillon Arnold, and his partner, Tony Arrigo.

Olivia had never worked in robotics, but a teacher encouraged her to team up with Rachel. At Blackstone Valley, Rachel is in the Electronics and Engineering Technology program, while Olivia is in the Drafting and Engineering Technology program.

“Coming from different programs at BVT, we were able to share our knowledge with each other,” added Rachel. “She is very efficient in AutoCAD, while I am efficient with the construction of the robot and considering what the robot needs to function. Teamwork is a huge factor in the success of the competition.”

The partnership worked as the ladies took bronze at districts, though that usually means the team won’t go to state. Another district in the state didn’t have enough teams competing to advance, so the duo was given a second chance.

“This experience drove us to work even harder during the state’s competition,” Rachel said. “We kept pushing ourselves to be the best we could. Once we thought we were the best, we pushed a little more, so we were always improving and never settled.”

The result was that they took gold at state. They continued to fine-tune their robot and improve their presentation and engineering notebook, which paid off as they impressed the championship judges enough to take the gold.

“Their robot was built with experience from previous competitions, knowledge of the course and technical standards, and was well tested,” said Alan Kirby, national tech committee chair for USAR. “Their engineering notebook documented the entire design iteration process and told the complete story.”


The competitors agreed on one thing: they are representing women in engineering.

“Actually, it’s one of the things I’m the most proud of,” Olivia said. “I’ve already seen the difference in what it’s like to be a woman in the engineering fields. I’ve started talking to various colleges, and every one of them has been extremely surprised about my choice in major: mechanical engineering. I’m proud to be a potential role model for any young woman entering engineering.”

Rachel seconds this.

“I constantly think to myself, as all girls should, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’” Rachel said. “I think that girls can do anything they want. They shouldn’t let someone or something stand in their way. It seems as though girls were never thought to build robots, become engineers, or be as smart as boys. But because of people like me, girls can gain the confidence they need to do anything they set their minds to.”

She hopes their performance helps to change misconceptions about girls in engineering.

“I feel that because two girls from Massachusetts won the gold medal at nationals, many more girls will pursue their interest in robotics. It takes one person, well in this case two people, to start a chain reaction and change the way people view girls in robotics or engineering.”


Olivia and Rachel are doing more than paving the way for other girls – they are continuing a legacy for Blackstone Valley and for Rachel’s brother Dillon. He and Tony took the championship gold last year, and Dillon also earned bronze in 2014 and gold in 2013.

Rachel said that her team was affected by the legacy and mentorship of the two young men, adding that they discussed robotics with her, helped pack the team’s robot and toolbox for the championships, and kept in contact during the competition in Louisville.

Between sister and brother, there was a special moment before Rachel left to compete.

“The day before I left for nationals, Dillon told me to close my eyes, so I did,” she said. “I felt him put something heavy around my neck; I knew exactly what it was. He told me to open them and I saw his gold medal he won at nationals hanging on my neck. ‘There, now you know what it feels like. Take it with you to Kentucky and bring home another one,’ he told me.

“This made me want to win even more and gave me more confidence than ever. I feel very proud to keep the gold medal in the Arnold family.”

“Everything fell into place with the STEM PD. I’ve been astounded by the creativity and the innovative ideas that our teachers have come up with in doing the design challenges that they’ve been given by the Pitsco facilitators.”

– Nicole Murray, district STEM coordinator, Duplin County, North Carolina

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