Pierson High School Robotics Team Builds, and Rebuilds

Teacher Ed Maloney and student Sage Witty work on Pierson’s robot as Ellie Borzilleri smiles for the camera. Courtesy photo

Pierson High School’s robotics team is building more than just a robot. It’s building its future.

With history teacher Susan Duff at the helm this year — the school’s first female head robotics advisor in the team’s nearly 25-year history — Pierson is looking to make a name for itself at the FIRST Robotics competition at Hofstra University next week.

“We have a very young team,” said Ms. Duff, who grew up around machinery in the shop where her grandfather, a master craftsman, worked. “Our focus this year was building the team and recruiting new members.”

Pierson robotics coach Susan Duff. Courtesy photo

The team took part in what senior Leyla Dorph-Lowrie called “a practice run” this past weekend at the Rochester Institute of Technology. They didn’t do quite as well as they hoped, but they regrouped.

“For a lot of us, it’s our first or second year doing this,” Leyla said. “I think we’re ready for the second competition. We all know each other really well and know how to work with each other, which is important.”

Colby Wilson, a sophomore who has been doing robotics since the fourth grade, said the robot — a 124-pound contraption they call “The Beast from the East” — has become more efficient since they first built it.

“We are ready for anything,” he said.

The 35-member team consists of students doing coding, constructing, designing logos, making videos and more.

“They took skills they knew from classes,” Ms. Duff said. “Some people have outside skills. Eva Mojeski learned how to weld from her father. Colby learned a lot of different things in his dad’s shop.”

Other mentors from the school include teachers Ed Maloney and Toby Marienfeld, along with J.R. Wilson, Colby’s father. Two Pierson alumni, Joe North and Adrian Pickering, also volunteered.

The team also received sponsorships from Ship Ashore Marina and Maxwell Turf. A trip to Ship Ashore also inspired part of the robot’s design.

“We took the vacuum pump from a Chevy, took the vacuum head off of the motor … and milled it so that we could use it with regular tubing and a motor that is legal for their standards,” Colby explained. “It’s very powerful.”

Ms. Duff said, “it definitely takes a village” to raise a robotics team.

“It’s great to be in this environment and see the kids and mentors really collaborate with community members to build a robot that is good in competition without the support that some of the other teams have,” she said. “They have to pull together.”

Pierson student Alex Weseley works on the team’s robot during a competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology last weekend. Courtesy photo