ST. CLOUD -- The Dream It. Do It. Minnesota State VEX Robotics Competition was held at the River's Edge Convention Center today (Saturday).

The event is in its fifth year in St. Cloud and event coordinator Aaron Barker says he has seen robotics grow in popularity in Minnesota over the past few years.

"Robotics is taking off - we have over 100 teams [at the tournament] this year," Barker says.

"There are actually more robotics teams than there are varsity hockey teams in the state of Minnesota."

Barker says a first-year robotics team from Richmond won the competition's excellence award and will move on to compete at the world championship in Louisville, Kentucky later this year.

Jessica Gehrke, who helped put on the event, says she enjoys seeing the year-to-year progress made by the students and their teams.

"These teams come back every year and we see them and their coaches - how they're building and growing and developing as a team," Gehrke says.

"For me, that's my favorite part."

Gehrke and Barker say aside from being a fun activity, robotics helps to prepare students for future careers in technology and engineering.

"The skills they're learning along with teamwork and critical thinking really are what manufacturers are looking for in future employees," Gehrke says.

"Our plans are that [these kids] will continue on," Barker says. "They need to go out and expand on their mind and keep growing this to create a better future for us."

Photo by Isaac Schweer, WJON