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Western Pa. students prepare for robotics competitions

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 3:41 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Clairton City School District has been committed to its robotics program for several years and will continue competition with the upcoming BotsIQ event. Two years ago, then-junior Amanda Gillespie, then-senior Charles Shrout, and then-sophomore Eliza Sopko were among those who participated. Eliza, now a senior, still is with the program.

Area high school students will take robots this weekend to Troy, N.Y., and Youngwood.

While McKeesport Area students pack for Troy and the first of two FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) regional tests, others are headed for competition at Westmoreland County Community College.

Preliminary rounds are scheduled at the community college for the ninth annual Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ Competition on Friday and Saturday.

BotsIQ organizers said a record-breaking 72 teams are being sent with 800 participants from 51 schools.

It is a gladiator-style competition that draws on students' knowledge of math, science, engineering and even public speaking.

Organizers said it has evolved since 2005 into a manufacturing workforce development program that has drawn more than 3,000 high school students toward jobs in manufacturing.

“Despite advances in technology, a career in manufacturing can't seem to shake the stereotype of layoffs and miserable working conditions,” Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ executive director Bill Padnos said. “BotsIQ demonstrates to high school students that today's manufacturing (is) techy and edgy, challenging and rewarding.”

And, he added, an in-demand career in an era of employment instability.

Local BotsIQ participants come from Clairton, Norwin, Serra Catholic, Steel Valley, West Mifflin Area, Baldwin, Propel Braddock Hills, Woodland Hills and Yough high schools, as well as Forbes Road Career and Technology Center and the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

Clairton's Team Mega Nuke and Team Bazinga made it last year to the National BotsIQ Championships in Indianapolis, where Mega Nuke lost in the quarterfinals to eventual national champion North High School of St. Paul, Minn.

“We all met a lot of people, and they had a great learning experience,” Clairton City School District spokeswoman Alexis Trubiani said.

Survivors of this weekend's Youngwood event will move on to the BotsIQ finals on April 25 and 26 at California University of Pennsylvania.

Schools with multiple teams include West Mifflin Area, Baldwin and Woodland Hills (three each) and Yough (five).

There are businesses that back the school efforts.

“They offer a lot of support, ranging from financial, coaching (and) materials (to) worksite use of equipment and so forth,” BotsIQ spokeswoman Diane Wuycheck said.

Some business sponsors include Ace Wire Spring and Form Co. Inc. and Vangura Tool Inc. (both of Clairton), Kurt J. Lesker and Kennywood Park (both of West Mifflin Area), Automated Manufacturing (Baldwin), Hammill Manufacturing (Woodland Hills) and Painter Tools (Yough).

Cal U's convocation center will be a hotbed of robotic activity this spring.

In addition to BotsIQ, the Mon Valley university is new host for the Greater Pittsburgh FIRST Regional.

It moved from the Petersen Events Center at the University of Pittsburgh to Cal U where 48 teams will gather from March 27-29.

Ontario, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia schools will join 32 from Pennsylvania, including McKeesport Area High School's Team 1708, Gateway High School's Team 2656 and Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center's Team 3511.

For Team 1708 it is the second FIRST competition this month after the trip this weekend to Troy and the New York Tech Valley Regional. It is the only Pennsylvania school among 38 signed up there.

McKeesport supporters include Cygnus Manufacturing Co., the Heinz Endowments, Wal-Mart, ChemImage, The Consortium for Public Education's The Future is Mine program and 21st Century Community Learning and Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grants.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or