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Robots battle for Sea, Air and Land supremacy at Freeport High

Emily Balser
| Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 11:55 p.m.
Charlie Greco judges Butler Area High students during the Air Competition at Freeport Area High School as they work a drone course in the gymnasium on Tuesday. Students are, from left, John Bright, Jackson Kennedy and Alex Downs. April 25, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Charlie Greco judges Butler Area High students during the Air Competition at Freeport Area High School as they work a drone course in the gymnasium on Tuesday. Students are, from left, John Bright, Jackson Kennedy and Alex Downs. April 25, 2017.
Freeport students, Jeffrey Will, Katie Zingaro, Tyler Bennick and Dainail Colfesh work with there land robot during the Sea Land and Air competition at Freeport High School.Tuesday April 25, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Freeport students, Jeffrey Will, Katie Zingaro, Tyler Bennick and Dainail Colfesh work with there land robot during the Sea Land and Air competition at Freeport High School.Tuesday April 25, 2017.

The scene at Freeport Area High School on Tuesday looked more like a workspace in Silicon Valley than a high school gym, with students huddled in groups working to perfect the robots they were building.

About 200 high school students from nine schools competed Tuesday during the Sea, Air and Land Challenge.

The program is designed to give students an opportunity to tackle an engineering problem, to introduce Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs to schools, said Susan Zingaro, program coordinator with Penn State University.

It give students a chance to see if they might be interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field and makes student aware about job opportunities in the Defense Department.

The challenge was developed by Penn State Electro-Optics Center and is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.

Students used robots to complete challenges based on scenarios relevant to those that the military or an emergency first-responder might encounter.

"For land, it's as if there's burning buildings and you've got to pick up something and deliver it," Zingaro said.

The students also competed in underwater and air challenges with similar themes.

This is the fifth year for the challenge and the second year Freeport Area has hosted it.

"It was a good learning experience," said Freeport senior Jeffrey Will, 18.

Will was part of a group of seniors from Freeport High who competed in the land competition.

"It's a very creative process," said Freeport senior Tyler Bennick, 17.

Burrell junior Austin Roolf, 17, plans to enlist with the Marines after high school and was taking notes from what the challenge taught him.

"Just the 'thinking outside of the box' aspect of it — I feel like that's just going to help me, first of all in the Marine Corps, but second of all in life," he said.

Freeport Area High Principal Mike Kleckner said the school plans to host the event as long as they can fit everyone into the school.

"It just gives those kids the opportunity to problem-solve," he said. "This is kind of (the) culminating activity of that trial-and-error."

Burrell senior Joe Hayes, 18, plans to go to college for engineering and was happy to get some hands-on experience.

"I'm learning a lot," Hayes said. "Engineering isn't really something you see a lot in high school."

Students were left to their own ideas and work when building the robots. Their teachers were only there to observe.

"They don't get any help from us," said Tad Campagna, Advanced Placement physics teacher at Butler Area High School. "It's a lot of new things for them — they're learning to learn on their own."

Parent Jane Kennedy, from Butler, cheered on her son, Jackson, as he competed.

"As a parent, I know how hard the kids have worked," Kennedy said. "I'm really proud of them."

David Jones, physics, math and engineering teacher at Freeport, said giving the students a chance to problem solve on their own instead of just teaching a lesson makes it worth it for him.

"That gives me a reason to come to work," Jones said.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or on Twitter @emilybalser.

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