Not every student gets to design, build and test robots in class.
However, it’s standard coursework for 20 students learning robotics in the Effingham College and Career Academy’s engineering and technology program.
“This is my favorite class,” said student Guilherme Witkoski.
“It opens your mind to all the different opportunities,” said student Tristan Greenleaf. “I never would’ve thought I’d be working with a robot in school and get credit for it.”
Witkoski and Greenleaf were among seven ECCA students who participated last month in a robotics competition at the Georgia Technology Student Association fall conference on Jekyll Island. In its first year of having a TSA chapter and entering the robotics competition, ECCA placed 42nd out of 73 schools.
“It’s really cool because we’re the first people from Effingham County to get sent to this competition,” Witkoski said.
“We’re starting a legacy,” said student Tori Gaylord. “We want to make a lasting impression.”
They have certainly made one on their teacher, Cliff Kicklighter. He called ECCA’s performance at the conference “kind of amazing” for a first-year program.
“They’ve done an awesome job in my book. They’ve surpassed my expectations,” said Kicklighter, the Effingham College and Career Academy’s director of engineering and technology.
Kicklighter has been involved before in the Technology Student Association competition, as a robotics teacher at Evans High School and a member of the TSA board of directors. Even with his first-hand experience to guide the students, they faced a small glitch along the way.
At the conference, each robot had to be certified that it met size and weight guidelines. With the competition's start time nearing, the judges told the ECCA students their robot was about an eighth of an inch too long.
“So they had to take it apart and cut it, modify it with about 30 minutes left,” Kicklighter said.
“It worked perfectly,” Witkoski said.
It wasn’t the first time the students had taken apart the robot. Each team in the competition builds a robot from a kit purchased from the company VEX Robotics.
Building the robot from the kit gives the students basic knowledge such as how the pieces fit together and how the motors work, Kicklighter said. The students then must disassemble the robot and design, build and test one that will perform the tasks called for in the competition.
“The robot that they tell you how to build does absolutely nothing to help you win the game,” Kicklighter said. “Once you get that finished, you have to tear it apart and build something for the competition.”
The hands-on experience is invaluable for the careers the students plan to pursue. Gaylord wants to become an aerospace engineer.
“I believe it will help toward my future,” she said. “I thought this would be a great chance to learn new things and get a better chance of getting a good career.”
Following their strong showing at the TSA conference, the ECCA students aren’t content to enter just one robot in their next competition. The students have branched off into two teams, each working to build a robot for a competition in January at Savannah Mall hosted by Woodville-Tompkins High School.
“This group came back (from the conference) and they were fired up,” Kicklighter said.