Robotics team competing to bring home trophy

The Positronic Panthers have built a robot under the guidance of Mr. Brown, but will it survive to the end?


Courtesy Robotics Team

Seniors Atticus Clow-McLaughlin, Wyatt Neikam, and Kestian Orsetti discuss strategy with sophomore Jaden Hunter at the robotics competition.

Kaitlyn Ho '26, Copy Editor

Starting a few weeks ago, the robotics team of around 20-30 people has gone to competitions each weekend, and will continue to compete over spring break.
Mr. Page Brown, robotics teacher and advisor at Strath Haven, calls the team a tight-knit family. Although the team is not as large as it was before the pandemic, Mr. Brown believes their robot will be able to recover a title from 13 years ago.
“[Robotics] is using a machine to do a task that humans would be able to do, normally. But a machine that could do it either better or more efficiently, or in a more dangerous place,” Brown said.
That is just what their robot will need to do in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) robotics international competition, an international robot competition founded by a man named Dean Kaman. He had noticed a low count of engineers while looking at candidates for his company, and as is the ethics of an engineer, wanted to find a solution to this problem. He decided to create a robotics competition for students, pairing them with engineers from real companies, to generate more interest in engineering.
The objective of each round is to do a task, such as placing blocks onto shelves, or to simply attack another robot.
“We have one engineer from Boeing, and we have an engineer from the Department of Defense that come help us on Saturdays with a robot,” Brown said.
Teams are labeled by how many other teams had signed up before them. SHHS’s Positronic Panthers are team #486. According to the website, there were 3,225 teams in total during the 2021-2022 season.
“It was 1999. They decided to start a robot program, and they didn’t know how to do it,” Brown said. “They were invited by Dean Kaman to come up to Manchester, New Hampshire to learn about this program. And when they came home, they had a box full of parts and a team number 486.”
They didn’t exactly take home the trophy the first year. Or the year after that. But in 2003, they won the Philadelphia Regional and went to the World Championships, going against the best teams in the world. Seven years after that, they went to the World Championships again.
This year, the robot the team is building is about 125 pounds, with some students coming in every day after school to work on it. Even so, it will be difficult for the robot to compare against the more well-funded teams.
“There’s a team from Downingtown, called Sabotage…1640 is their team number,” he said. “And they have 72 students on the team and started much earlier. It costs $625 a year to be on the team, so they start with $45,000.”
Newer equipment in the robotics team could be beneficial for future years as well. Sophomore Jacob Jurkech, who is hoping to continue his time with the robotics team next year, outlined the need for updated tools.
“We have a lot of old machinery, not newer compared to other teams,” Jurkech said. “So getting the 15 year old parts, some of them to work…Some of them are older than me.”
Jurkech formally joined this year. His aim?
“Enjoy myself and get better because I personally like messing and tinkering with electronics and metal and stuff. I already do that. Whenever, you know, whenever I have some project to do. I enjoy it,” he said.
Sophomore Jaden Hunter is on the build team as one of about three or four girls on the robotics team altogether. She also believes in the camaraderie of the team, though there is room for improvement.
“Honestly, for the most part, it’s pretty fun,” Hunter said. “I like the guys, but there are moments where I have to experience some, like, a tide of misogyny. For instance, just when I come up with an idea, and they don’t listen to me, and they don’t appreciate the idea or don’t think that it’s worth it. And then I talked to someone else about it, and they’re like, yeah, that’s important, you should be doing that…That feels like— I don’t know if it’s because I’m a girl, but it is something that I’ve experienced.”
Brown understands the need to let his students persist, and tries to let them be as independent as possible in face of the difficulties.
“I helped build the robot,” Brown said. “I don’t know anything about the electronics on the robot. The students did all that. I don’t program. I don’t know anything about Java code. The students program our robot. That team from Delaware. They have a software engineer that programs a robot. We have a 17 year old.”
Throughout the challenges, comparing themselves to other teams, and keeping in mind the scarcity of diversity in engineering these days, the robotics team holds together as they continue to dream about winning that trophy.*