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Teacher Spotlight: Rocking Robotics

3 years ago
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For the last five years, Matt Jurkiewicz, a Teacher and Robotics coach at Bishop McDevitt High School, has been bringing students together to explore the possibilities of robotics. Recently, he shard insights into the incredible momentum of his team, E=mCD.

 

How did you first get involved with the Robotics Team at Bishop McDevitt?

In the spring of 2011, a Bishop McDevitt alumnus named Brendan Burke (’77) approached the school and pitched the idea of a Robotics team. He asked me to join, despite having no experience in robotics, electrical engineering, or computer programming, so that I could handle some of the logistics for the team, from planning trips to budgeting for supplies. As someone who is relatively new to robotics, I am still blown away by what our students are able to accomplish.

 

What has been your favorite robotics project so far?

My favorite robot was one we made in 2013. It was designed to shoot Frisbees into 8- and 10-foot high goals, then climb a metal pyramid to earn bonus points. The most impressive part was how accurate and fast our robot was in its very first match. While other teams were working out bugs in their programming or fixing broken parts, our team was lighting up the scoreboard.

 

How competitive is your team?

Although E=mCD comes from a comparatively small school, we’ve had great success in our first five seasons. We’ve reached the final rounds of three events and qualified for the District Championship four times.

 

How do you decide what kinds of robots to build?

Every January, teams from various schools are presented with an outline of a “game” for the upcoming robotics season. Since McDevitt’s team has existed, the games have ranged from shooting foam basketballs, to climbing 10-foot high metal pyramids, to breaching castle walls with dodgeball-sized “boulders.” Each game is completely different and requires novel strategies in terms of robotic design and teamwork.

 

What has it been like to see so many young people come together and bond around a common interest in science and technology?

The skills that our team members have developed over the past several years are simply mind-blowing. Watching our students write computer programs, wire electronics, and construct 150-pound robots on their own, with merely a bit of oversight from their mentors, it gives me hope about the future of our country and our world. Our students are taking their first steps towards becoming leaders who will eventually use their problem-solving abilities to tackle the largest challenges facing our society today.

 

How much has the team grown since it was created?

The first robot we built was very basic – essentially four wheels and a battery, and we had so few members that when we entered competitions we had to be assisted in the “pits” by the younger siblings of our team members. But in the four years since, the team has tripled in size, with nearly 10% of McDevitt’s student body actively participating. Thanks to the support of corporate sponsors such as Lockheed Martin and Comcast, who have provided financial backing as well as adult volunteers to mentor our team members, the robotics team at McDevitt has continued to become more and more competitive.

 

Why have you chosen to continue teaching at AOPS for 10 years?

There’s a distinct sense of community, a sense that faculty and administrators are focused on supporting one another and dedicated to helping their students succeed. McDevitt, specifically, has embraced its relative smallness and created an environment in which students can really feel like part of a family. At the same time, it offers fantastic programs, from athletics to academic electives such as our robotics team.

It’s a pleasure to work somewhere where faith and values are championed as much as knowledge. We teach our students to build fantastic machines that can do almost anything, but at the same time we are teaching them the value of teamwork, problem solving, and being gracious in both victory and defeat. There is a steadfast belief among Archdiocesan educators that our students can change the world.