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Mt. Pleasant Area School District starts 'BotsIQ' club

| Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, 6:06 p.m.
Members of the local chapter of the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ Club at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School, including (clockwise, from left) Ronnie Zawalsh, 14; Austin Gallis, 14; Gavin Hixson, 14; Christopher Younkin, 17; Andrew Fiore, 17; Johnathan Ruby, 16; Andrew Werner, 16; and Tabitha Cooper, 15, brainstorm recently regarding their robot-building ideas.
Kelly Vernon | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Members of the local chapter of the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ Club at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School, including (clockwise, from left) Ronnie Zawalsh, 14; Austin Gallis, 14; Gavin Hixson, 14; Christopher Younkin, 17; Andrew Fiore, 17; Johnathan Ruby, 16; Andrew Werner, 16; and Tabitha Cooper, 15, brainstorm recently regarding their robot-building ideas.

Mt. Pleasant Area instructor Lee Smith said the district's administrative officials approached him last year to gauge his interest in Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ — billed at botsiqpa.org as an educational robotics competition for high school aged students.

District leaders consulted Smith after hearing about other local districts that have taken part in what the site calls “a unique, hands-on experience that allows (students) to discover the possibilities of a career in the manufacturing sector, and STEM, or other science, technology, engineering or math fields.”

Smith, who teaches drafting, introduction to materials and an eighth-grade exploring technology course, liked the idea enough to involve local students in a club this year based on the competition's parameters, he said.

“We are hoping if the students show a lot of interest in the club, that we will implement a robotics curriculum at the school in the future,” he said.

Justin Hartung of Upper Burrell, a senior engineer with Westinghouse at Waltz Mill, serves as the club's industry mentor.

He lends his expertise to guide the students thorough the process and attends the club's meetings to coach them and share his knowledge and resources for the project, he said.

“It is a good opportunity to get students involved in STEM early,” Hartung said.

Smith and fellow district instructor Andrew Tidwell serve as the club's faculty advisers.

Participating students construct combat-type robots and compete against other teams while being exposed to myriad advanced manufacturing careers and training for tomorrow's workforce, the site states.

Tidwell said students taking part will design, build and test a robot to compete March 13-14 at the SWPA Bots IQ regional competition at Westmoreland County Community College.

Should local students excel during that competition, it's possible they will advance to the state Bots IQ finals to be held April 24-25 at the California University of Pennsylvania.

Students will be responsible for all aspects of the project including funding, design, construction, testing, repairs, record keeping, resume construction and controlling the robot, Tidwell added.

“It's a new experience, and will be fun when we start to compete,” student Johnathan Ruby said.

Hartung said Westinghouse donates time, safety supplies and monetary support to the project.

“This project will help students develop STEM skills and to give them an edge for their future,” Hartung said.

Smith said Hartung offers a great deal of help to the club.

“We have already started the design phase of the robot,” Tidwell said. “We got a late start, but our kids are willing to work hard and meet after school to make up for the delayed start.”

The club meets once a week and after school meetings are scheduled as necessary.

The students are fundraising and speaking with local businesses to get donations to purchase materials to build the robot, Smith said.

The chassis, which can be costly, must be ordered before construction can begin.

District student Andrew Fiore said he can use the technical skills he is learning in the mechatronics shop at Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Stanton to help with the newly formed team.

“We planned for two weeks sketching ideas, (and we) designed and made a prototype from cardboard and wood,” said Ronnie Zawalsh, 14.

Smith said the district club has received program specifications regarding what is required and what is prohibited toward construction of a robot.

As for the name the students have ready to dub its future robot?

General Lee.

Kelly Vernon is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-547-5722 or kvernon@tribweb.com.

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