Johnny Vargo, an industrial technology teacher at Plainfield High School, says “being a nerd is now cool.”
Vargo put together a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics team at PHS only three years ago, and now they call themselves champions after winning the Indiana State FIRST Robotics Championship this past weekend at Perry Meridian High School.
“We started competing in VEX competitions around the state in 2008, and this is where we heard about For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics,” he said. “Our team has been successful because they take pride and are dedicated to the work it takes to build these complex robots.”
FIRST Robotics Competitions involve teams of high school students building robots that weigh up to 120 pounds that can complete a task, which is changed every year. They are allowed a budget, a standard set of parts, and encouraged to add to the robots as long as they conform to FIRST safety rules.
Teams are given six weeks to complete a robot that can operate autonomously as well as by wireless control to complete given tasks. The PHS squad came from being 23rd out of 24 teams to take home the title.
“I preach strategy,” Vargo said. “Teams from all around the world come to our regional. It’s unlikely that we’ll have the best robot at the competition, so our game plan is to use strategy to gain and sustain competitive advantage.”
He said the program encapsulates a range of students with a variety of educational goals, and that eclectic group is why they have so much success.
“We have students that want to become mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, programmers, and web designers,” he said. “It takes these different interests and talents to have a successful FIRST robotics team.”