Friday, February 3, 2012

FIRST Student Spotlight: Aspiring Engineer Peter Heath

A HEAD START When Peter Heath sat down to write his college admission essay, the topic was a no-brainer: FIRST Robotics. The program taught him the fundamentals of designing and building robots that actually work.

Today, four years after his first competition in a FRC challenge, the 18-year-old aspiring aerospace engineer is wrapping up his final year at California High School in San Ramon. Heath told us during our visit to his campus this week that he just found out that his application to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's mechanical engineering program was accepted.

"That was my first choice," he told us during a break from coaching younger students in a robot building session on Wednesday. "So I'm pretty excited about that. It's one of the top engineering schools in the country."

Since Bishop-Wisecarver sponsors local FIRST teams, including the team at California High School, we've known Heath for a few years and have watched his skills develop. As FIRST Diamond Sponsors in 2012, we're excited to see him apply his talents to this year's competition.

THE CHALLENGE AHEAD FIRST attracts more and more teams each year, and the 2012 competition is tougher than ever. The theme, Rebound Rumble, requires kids to build robots that can shoot basketballs into hoops.

Heath is one of the lead designers, and on one recent afternoon he spent his time after class fielding questions from his peers and younger students, trying to work out some wiring difficulties on the 4-foot-high rolling robot.

"The game is very different this year," he said. "We just have to build a robot with different functions. The challenge always changes."

Four weeks into the build, Heath said he and his team are still trying to figure things out. But all those years of leadership and problem-solving have come in handy for Heath. When another student asks a question, Heath has a ready answer.

As Heath prepares to leave his high school career behind him for a new chapter in college, his robotics teacher John Reed is just getting started. Reed spent years as an engineer for Intel before deciding to pursue teaching two years ago. This marks his first school year at Cal High and his first foray into the world of high school robotics competitions.

"Honestly, I just let them do their thing," Reed said from his office. "They've been doing this a while, so they know how to organize, how to figure things out on their own. I'm just here to advise if they need it."

The classroom mentor, mechatronics mastermind Stewart Leicester, says that's the best way to get kids to learn engineering — let them figure things out.

"It's the hands-on stuff they'll take with them to the workplace," he said.

Heath agreed.

"So many practical things I've learned in FIRST, like how to operate mills, lathes, laser and 3D printers," he said. "I can use all those things in a real workplace. Even if I don't operate them directly, I'll manage people who do, so it helps knowing how they work."

A LOOK BACK AT FIRST COVERAGE OF CALIFORNIA HIGH Take a look at some of our previous interviews with Cal High students in this video — [ Having Fun: That's What Counts ] Read up on our past FIRST coverage that is archived [ on our blog ]