Robots are on Palos teen’s radar
A child who takes apart a remote control car or the DVR in hopes of finding out how it works just might be a mechanical engineer in the making.
That’s how Ian Weivoda, a senior at Stagg High School in Palos Hills, first became interested in mechanics. He built his first “robot,” from a remote-controlled car, at age 6.
“I removed the cover of the car and put two cardboard boxes on top with dryer tube arms. I drew a face on the cardboard box and drove the car around,” he said.
His interest in mechanics grew. When Weivoda arrived at Stagg as a sophomore, he got involved in several activities, but really wanted to join a robotics club. Problem was Stagg didn’t offer one.
“Sandburg High School had teams and they were in their third season,” Weivoda said of Stagg’s sister school.
Weivoda proposed starting a robotics team at Stagg, and while the funds weren’t available last school year, officials allowed interested Stagg students to join the Sandburg team to design a robot for competition.
“It worked out well. I went to Sandburg three days a week for two months to help them work on their robot along with one other student. I worked with Sandburg’s coaches and learned how to run a team,” Weivoda said.
Determined that Stagg should have its own team, Weivoda persevered. This school year, Stagg received a $5,000 grant from Consolidated High School District 230, and the team was launched.
“That started us off well toward our $6,500 registration fee, and we raised $1,000 and got some corporate grants,” Weivoda said.
Stagg Associate Principal Deb Baker credits Weivoda with
almost single-handedly establishing the Stagg team, which now is part of the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering program.
“I had lots of help along the way,” said Weivoda, 18, the team president.
In competitions, the team builds and programs a robot to accomplish a specific task. In previous years, the students had to program a robot to play soccer and basketball.
This year’s challenge, called Ultimate Ascent, asks each five-member team to create a game in which a robot shoots a Frisbee into various goals to earn points. The championship finals are April 24 to 27 in St. Louis.
“I have always been interested in robotics; that is what I want to go into,” Weivoda said. “I want to major in mechanical engineering and minor in computer engineering. That way, I can go into robotics in graduate school.
“I really enjoy science experiments. Maybe a little too much sometimes,” Weivoda said, joking. “As a kid, I had a knack for ripping electronics apart but I didn’t pay enough attention to how I took it apart to notice how to put it back together.”
Weivoda, who has a 4.625-grade-point average, particularly enjoys the WYSE competitions, teaming up with the science club to compete against other schools in tasks such as paper bridge-building and egg drops.
He’s also been involved in basketball, drama club, varsity club, National Honor Society and Phi Alpha Theta (a history honor society).
In drama, he works as a stage crew head in charge of building sets and making sure they move smoothly during set changes.
Weivoda is a Boy Scout, too, plays in the Mount Greenwood basketball league and is a member of the youth group at Our Lady of the Woods in Palos Park.
He has applied to eight colleges and hopes to be accepted into one of his top three: Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Illinois, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He said his parents, Carol and Harlan Weivoda, of Palos Heights, are his mentors.
“They don’t like it when people give up, so they are always pushing me to do a little better,” he said. “They are my driving force. They tell me to keep growing and never settle.”
With so much on his plate, what keeps him focused?
“Caffeine,” he said.