The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 9, 2013

Students take a fling at Frisbee-tossing ’bot

JOHNSTOWN — Westmont Hilltop High School is going robotic.

The school formed the Westy-tek Robotics club earlier in the school year and students have been busy building and fine-tuning a robot they plan to enter in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition that will be held March 14-16 at the Petersen Event Center in Pittsburgh.

The goal of FIRST, dubbed “The Varsity Sport for the Mind,” is to encourage young people to become leaders in science and technology by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills that inspire innovation and foster self-confidence and communication and leadership skills.

Rules state that in order to start a team schools need to seek out mentors from the community willing to assist with the project and secure sponsors to help cover the cost of materials and competition entrance fees.

With the requirements in place, the Westmont team, which is made up of 26 students, got to work on designing, building and programming the robot they named Optimus Composite.

Faculty adviser Thomas Mitchell said they started the project Jan. 6 and need to have it completed by Feb. 18.

“This year’s game is Ultimate Ascent, and the goal of our robot is to throw a Frisbee and hit targets,” he said. “Since this is our rookie season, we’re trying to make this as manageable as possible.”

Winning teams qualify for college scholarships and earn a place in the national championship that will be held in April.

Mitchell said students have been averaging 16 hours a week after school working on the robot.

“That will expand as we get closer to the competition,” he said.

“But I couldn’t be happier with the students and mentors and sponsors who have supported us, and I believe the successes will come.”

Senior Dan Durham said being part of the team has given him a better understanding of what it’s like to work in the engineering/technology field.

“You get your feet wet and we’re able to gain real-world experience by talking to the mentors and learning from them,” he said.

Durham, who plans to major in either mechanical or materials engineering, said he’d encourage others to get involved with the club because it’s a way to learn something new and different.

“It’s a good experience, so give it a try,” he said.

Edwin Kesslak said working on the robot is new to him and he’s never done anything like it before.

“This has sparked a lot of interest,” said the sophomore, who also serves as the team’s director of public relations and fundraising.

“There’s more to it than just engineering. It’s fun and we’ve become a family because we spend hours and hours a day together and we’ve become closer.”

For information on Westytek, visit

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