Centre County 4-H robotics team hopes to expand

After successfully constructing competition robots the past two years, the Centre County 4-H robotics team now wants to build its future.

The high school-age team, Fatal Error, hopes to extend opportunities for learning about science, technology, engineering and mathematics by starting local robotics teams for youth entering grades four to eight.

Under the plan, teams would design and assemble robots using Lego components, matching their creations against others at district competitions as the senior program does. Also like the older students, younger participants would work with the international program FIRST, short for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

An open house with robot demonstrations will take place 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte.

Fatal Error President Rebecca Terosky said her team’s success inspired the idea for the FIRST Lego League teams. In its first year, Fatal Error placed ninth out of 45 teams at a district competition. This spring, it won the quarterfinal round at districts before bowing out.

“Because our team is finally getting into the groove after two years, we’re ready to sponsor these teams,” said Terosky, a State College Area High School senior.

The county already has a local home-schooled FFL team that has done well. Terosky said the team’s coach has asked to join the 4-H program.

At the open house, FFL team members will discuss their experiences as well as show their robot from this year and an automated dresser they designed and built for senior citizens. Fatal Error also will bring its latest robot, Kernel Panic, designed to toss Frisbees for mechanical ultimate games.

Terosky and 4-H robotics coordinator Stacie Hritz envision creating FFL teams throughout the county, possibly based in schools. Teachers, parents, engineers, 4-H leaders and Fatal Error members will serve as mentors.

Teams will be kept small so all members have a chance to participate fully.

“This way, they’ll really be working as a team, get to know each other and have a good time,” Terosky said.

FFL participation includes giving presentations about the program and designing a product based on annual competition themes. Starting in the fall, the next theme “Nature’s Fury” will relate to natural disaster relief.

Unlike high school students, who have six weeks to build robots from scratch before competitions, FFL teams work on a more relaxed schedule.

“For the middle school level, it’s more stretched out and you have more time to learn and experience things,” Terosky said.

All of which could prepare members to advance to the senior level, where students learn about fundraising and business as well as science and engineering. Terosky joined partly to enrich her college applications.

Now she wants to be an engineer like her father, Jason Terosky, who works at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory and helped start the 4-H robotics team.

“It creates independence and teamwork,” she said. “And it helps you grow up a little bit and learn how to do things in the real world.”