Vermillion Area Robotics Club

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Vermillion Area Robotics
Case Statement

Summary Over the past four years, the Vermillion (South Dakota) Area Robotics Club (VARC) has grown to be the premier competitive robotics club in the state and region.

  • It has done so with strong community support, outstanding mentorship and guidance, and a DIY spirit that has propelled it to Top 5 national and Top 50 World finishes over the past two years.
  • The children participating in VARC range from the very young (3rd grade) through high school and are doing so without formal school sponsorship or support.
  • We rely on the financial support of parents, grants, fundraisers, and community donations.
  • With community funding and support, the over 100 children per year participating in all forms of competitive and non-competitive robotics are nurtured and allowed to experience the excitement of building, creating, and collaborating in practical application of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) methods.

Simply the Best VARC teams since 2014 have proven to be a force throughout the state and region, winning state competitions in a variety of robotics disciplines. The most recent awards the VARC teams – high school, middle school, and elementary – have received include:

  • State BEST robotics competition champions (2014 and 2015)
  • State VEX Robotics champions and Excellence (all-around top-team) award winners (2015-2017)
  • National and World Competition Award Winners for programming; all-around robot performance, building, and design; community involvement; STEM research, and sportsmanship
  • 3rd Place (2017) at Nationals competition in Elementary and Middle School VEX Robotics
  • VARC high school was a US Open division finalist and on the 3rd ranked alliance in the Research Division at VEX Worlds in 2017.
  • VARC’s founder, coach, and mentor, Susan Rolfes, was honored as the National Mentor of the Year at last year’s US Open national competition.
  • We are currently ranked among the top teams in the world in VEX robotics:
    • VARC high school is ranked 50th in the world of 3137 teams for VEX metals robotics
    • VARC middle school is ranked 197th in the world of 3137 teams for VEX metals robotics
    • VARC middle school is ranked 188th in the world of 3262 teams for VEX plastics robotics
    • VARC elementary school is ranked 236th in the world of 3262 teams for VEX plastics robotics
  • Our first group of VARC graduates will be going to college this year, all pursuing degrees in engineering or science and technology fields. VARC’s groundwork, well, works!

Community-Minded  We didn’t become the best in the state and among the best in the world by accident. It all started and continues to grow and build in our community.

  • VARC was born from a family’s love for robotics and tinkering and quite literally began in a family garage and basement, where it still thrives today.
  • VARC has grown now to gracious store owners who donate space for practice and other family basements for design, thinking, making, and practice.
  • We maintain the spirit of bringing people to robotics by being resourceful, doing outreach, being present in the community, and staying passionate.
  • Since 2014, VARC children and mentors have:
    • Facilitated multiple community outreach events in local schools to share robotics and “think-do-test” methods with young children
    • Demonstrated robots and shared start-up materials and expertise so that other clubs in neighboring towns and cities could build their own programs
    • Hosted multiple, free two-day camps at the University of South Dakota for children around the state
    • Co-authored grants and purchased kits with 4-H and the Vermillion Public Library to provide community resources for robotics to grow
    • Demonstrated robots and recruited children at fairs and community events
    • Taught coding and robot building courses in community spaces
    • Volunteered at state, national and world robotics competitions
    • Helmed girls-only robotics camps and events in the schools and throughout the community to encourage STEM participation for all members of our community

DIY  While many schools and school districts fund robotics programs, labs, and teams, the VARC team has from the beginning relied on parents, volunteers, and support from the community. We are supported exclusively by donations and our own fundraising.

  • The costs of running a competitive robotics program are substantial. All coaches are unpaid, but materials and tournament costs each year require the VARC to raise $15,000 annually.
  • We believe that anyone should be able to participate in robotics, so VARC raises funds for all materials, t-shirts for competition, game pieces (which change every year), and tournament costs. Parents pay for team fees, regional competition fees, and travel expenses.
  • We look to donors who recognize the value that STEM education brings to children and communities and the pride that having a successful and sustainable robotics program brings to the Vermillion community.
  • We need a passionate community to invest in the good work being done in and through VARC.

Support VARC  We encourage sponsors to consider helping us offset the costs to keep robotics accessible and available, but to maintain the independent spirit and extraordinary success that our program – now in its fourth successful year – continues to have.

  • If you are interested in sponsoring, please contact Kurt Hackemer ( or Bill Anderson (
  • Your contributions – directed to VARC through the Vermillion Public Schools Foundation – VARC fund are tax-deductible and will be used for equipment, tournament fees, camps, game courses, non-administrative expenses.