McHenry County robotics team headed to international competition

The Golden Ratio needs to raise $15,000 to attend FIRST Championship

The Golden Ratio teammates Josiah Ryan, Nehemiah Schultz and Ryan Nolan work on building and programming their robot before the big competition.

In the basement of Calvary Church in Crystal Lake, four high schoolers tinker on a robot by adjusting notches and reviewing the coding on a computer. This is the students’ final efforts to rework their project before they head to an international robotics competition in April.

The Golden Ratio, a McHenry County-based robotics team for high schooler students, won second place in a state championship earlier this month. Their next challenge will be on a global stage in Houston next month for the FIRST Championship, an international competition for youth robotics teams to show off their skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

But their success comes with a caveat: The team needs to raise $15,000 to cover costs of travel and materials to compete in the competition, Golden Ratio coach Melissa Ryan said. The team set up sponsorship opportunities for businesses, and anyone can donate through

The Golden Ratio team includes high schoolers Jackson Woestman, Ryan Nolan and Josiah Ryan from Cary-Grove; Victoria Grant from Woodstock North; and home-schooled student Nehemiah Schultz from Island Lake. They are one of four teams representing Illinois in the FIRST Championship, which brings in more than 570 teams from more than 50 countries.

The students worked on building and programming a robot capable of launching paper airplanes, moving on its own, picking up objects and even suspending itself by hanging from a pole. Their robot, named Curiosity, was built specifically for this year’s FIRST Tech Challenge that requires teams to compete by having their custom-built robots navigate a playing field and collect disks for points.

“It’s kind of a tank,” Josiah Ryan said.

The challenge changes every year and is announced in September, and teams from around the world have about one month to create a robot. The teams will have help from mentors and their coaches, but most of the creativity and ideas come from the students.

“All of this is practically on our own,” Nolan said. “It’s about having fun and learning.”

The team qualified for the global FIRST Championship in 2020, but the entire competition was canceled because of the pandemic, Melissa Ryan said.

Despite being part of a prestigious competition, the students are necessarily nervous. Just qualifying is an “honor,” Josiah Ryan said.

“We’re still the top 3% in the country,” Schultz said.

Melissa Ryan started the team about seven years ago. Melissa Ryan’s son Josiah Ryan grew up around the team when his older brother was competing, so he said he sees the Golden Ratio as his “second home.”

The team focuses not only on robotics, but also team building and philanthropy. The Golden Ratio donates repurposed computers and electronics to Jamaican schools, clinics and churches. They also help mentor students in Jamaica in hopes they start their own STEM club one day, Melissa Ryan said.

“That’s our shoot-to-the-moon dream,” she said.

By involving the students in marketing and networking their team, they learn so many more lifelong skills outside of STEM, Melissa Ryan said.

“We’re building kids and we’re just using robots to build the kids.”