Blaine’s TSA club finds the fun in science and technology

TSA_SG-2By Steve Guntli

While the sports teams have been getting more attention, one Blaine High School (BHS) club has quietly been making a name for itself on a national level.

The local Technology Student Association (TSA) has been a staple at BHS since the mid-1990s. The club is for students interested in the STEM courses, science, technology, engineering and math. Career and technical education teacher Jim Nelson supervises the club, which has about 20 members.

Senior Matt Kelly, president of Blaine TSA, said the club took him by surprise.

“A lot of people don’t realize how cool it is. I know I didn’t,” he said. “The only reason I joined junior year was because I needed a technology credit, so I took a video production class with Mr. Nelson. He told me I should join TSA, so I did and it’s been awesome.”

Last year, the club won first place in the on-demand video and animatronics competitions at the state’s TSA conference. On-demand video is a sort of high-tech improv exercise. Teams take two props and one line of dialogue and produce a short video incorporating those elements within 36 hours. The Blaine team made its video using a key, an MP3 player and a famous line from Sunset Boulevard: “I am big; it’s the pictures that got small.” The team posted the video on the club’s YouTube page at http://bit.ly/1tmuJJq.

For an animatronics competition, teams had to create a robot that would teach a science lesson. The Blaine team built a 4-foot tall robot with a moon for a head that spoke about the history of mankind’s voyages to the lunar surface.

The club also sponsors the school’s annual Cancer Awareness Week. Each January, the TSA solicits donations to benefit the American Cancer Society. This year, the club was able to raise $1,111.

BHS teachers usually offer to perform some humiliating task as a reward to the class that raises the most money. This year, Kelly wanted to incorporate the club’s skillset into the competition.

“In the past, we’ve cut the bottom of a teacher’s pants off, which was kind of fun, but it got old because we did it three years in a row,” he said. “This year, I built three ‘Wheels of Misfortune,’ and the class who raised the most money got to spin the best wheel.”

The wheel included options such as “pie in the face” and “butt charades,” in which the teacher had to spell out words using only his or her rear end. The latter activity was broadcast on the school’s closed circuit TV station, which members of TSA operate. The classrooms that came in second and third got to spin the next two wheels, which were smaller and had fewer options.

The TSA is looking for community sponsors to help members attend both the state conference in Bellevue and the national conference in Dallas, Texas. The state conference takes place March 26–28, and will cost an average of $250 per student. The deadline for donations for the state conference trip is March 9.

The national conference, which takes place June 28 through July 2, will cost around $1,000–$1,500 per student for airfare, room and board. Kelly said the club is hoping to send 15 students to each conference.

Blaine TSA has made it to the national conference almost every year. Students raise most of the funds themselves, with some help from local businesses and community members. This year, the club raised money for the conferences by selling laser-cut Christmas ornaments made in the school’s machine shop.

Kelly believes the club’s wide range of projects will attract members in the future.

“You read about TSA on paper, and it sounds kind of nerdy, but there are so many things you can do with it, from making music and movies to designing video games,” he said. “You’re learning valuable skills that you can use later in life.”

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