McKeesport Teens Seek Support In Order to Fulfill Dream of Competing in FIRST National Robotics Competition

Local Students Win Regional Robotics Competition But Lack Funds to Move On to the Championship

Pittsburgh, PA (PRWEB) March 25, 2005 -- Engineering students from the McKeesport Area High School and Technology Center, also known as "Team 1708 - Natural Selection," overcame great odds to win the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Pittsburgh Regional Robotics Competition. Thirty-two teams of high school students from across the U.S. and Canada, including four Pittsburgh area teams, were tasked with the challenge of designing and building an original robot to compete in the Pittsburgh regional, which took place at the University of Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center on March 10-12.

The McKeesport team was offered the chance to compete in the regional as a result of a contact David Richardson, Chairman of the Pittsburgh FIRST Planning Committee, made to staff members of the Mon Valley Education Consortium's initiative, The Future Is Mine (TFIM). Mr. Richardson asked for help in finding a student/teacher team to participate in the competition. "We know that Mike Dischner and his engineering technology students filled the bill," said TFIM Project Director, Aimee D. LeFevers.

As a rookie team, the students and their engineering teacher, Michael Dischner, did not know what to expect. They did not have any corporate sponsors, nor did they have any mentors from the local technology community. They were also behind in the development of their robot. Participating teams are given six weeks to build their robot. But considering team 1708's late entry, they only had two weeks. Fortunately, the team was awarded a grant by the Heinz Endowments, which enabled them to purchase the required FIRST robot kit and quickly prepare for the competition. The team also received support from the Mon Valley Education Consortium. The students built, tested and crated up their creation, called "Charles (as in Darwin)" and shipped it off to the regional competition.

The team was competitive during the challenging game, called Triple Play, which took place on a twenty-seven foot by fifty-four foot tic-tac-toe shaped field. The teams did not play one-on-one like other competitions. Instead, two three-team alliances, one on either side of the playing field, used their robots to stack large tetrahedron shaped game pieces, called tetras, onto nine individual goals. Team 1708 was eliminated from the finals, but through an incredible twist of fate, they were placed in the final round after one of the finalists experienced a game-ending mechanical failure. And despite all of their early tribulations, the students from McKeesport ended up winning the Regional Competition and now automatically advance to the FIRST Championship.

"The FIRST Robotics Competition is an exciting, multinational competition that assimilates teams, sponsors, colleges, and technical professionals with high school students to develop their solution to a prescribed engineering challenge in a competitive game environment," LeFevers said. "We couldn't be more proud of these kids. They worked hard, under great pressure, and they won. We hope the Atlanta experience is just as exciting and successful for them."

"The students on our team not only learned about overcoming adversity, they also learned about the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork," states Michael Dischner, educator, McKeesport Area High School and Technology Center. "But now we face our next challenge. We do not have the resources to send the team to the nationals in Atlanta. We are anxiously raising funds to allow these talented kids to test their robot, technical skills and sportsmanship against the best young roboticists in the country."

Teams that qualify for the FIRST National Competition in Atlanta must pay $5,000 to enter the event, plus travel expenses. The team also lacks the proper tools to ensure that their robot is in top shape for the nationals. Organizations interested in making a donation can send a check to the Mon Valley Education Consortium and include "Donation for Team 1708" in the memo field or contact Mr. Dischner at 412-664.3650 x2164.

"FIRST Robotics is not just an event - it's a workforce development tool for our region," states David Richardson, Chairman, Pittsburgh FIRST Planning Committee. "If we can encourage our students to learn valuable real-world skills and build relationships with mentors while in high school, perhaps they will consider seeking higher education locally or return to Pittsburgh to contribute to the growing technology and business communities."

To view images of the team and their robot, visit

Accomplished Inventor, Dean Kamen, founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, NH, FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. With the support of many of the world's most well-known companies, the non-profit organization hosts the FIRST Robotics Competition for high school students and the FIRST LEGO League for children 9-14 years old. To learn more about FIRST and the FIRST Robotics Competition, visit

About The Mon Valley Education Consortium
The Mon Valley Education Consortium (MVEC) is a non-profit, community-based Local Education Fund (LEF) which raises money, seeks out resources, designs initiatives and convenes community to respond to the challenges faced by school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania. Through its ongoing major initiatives - Public School Excellence, Literacy for Life and The Future Is Mine - it focuses on making sure all children have the opportunity to learn and succeed. The Consortium works with more than 100 schools, 55,000-plus students in grades K-12, some 7,000 public school employees, and 122 communities. For more information, visit

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