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Building a better 'bot in Ballston Spa

To make the robot, which will eventually stand at about 5 feet tall, team members will have to use a variety of disciplines, from woodworking to welding, design to computer programming. Eighteen students are spending hours on their nights and weekends working on the project, assisted by volunteer mentors skilled in engineering, programming and mechanics.

The multidisciplinary approach challenges students to go beyond their boundaries. For example, freshman Mike Dame joined the team to design the Web site (www.ballstonsparoboticsclub.org), but at a recent meeting found himself with screwdriver in hand, assembling a wheel.

When it's time to program the robot, Dame will be using LabVIEW software, a real-world application and an experience that will come in handy if he chooses to pursue a future in computer programming.

Junior Kelly Burghart said she hadn't even considered a future in engineering before her Robotics Club experience. Now, she's examining new possibilities.

"I had no interest in technology prior to doing this," she said. "Now, I'm addicted to it. I like this work."

Robotics team members will be working hard until Feb. 19, when they must ship their robot to Rochester for the March 5 to 7 competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The district has hopes of expanding the robotics program to middle and elementary schools as part of its efforts to provide forward-thinking education to its students and also teach teamwork and problem solving skills in a hands-on way.

"The district is starting to infuse more robotics, because it's a fun way to teach these values," said Roberts.

"It's working into the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] theme of preparing kids for high-tech careers," said Irwin, noting that engineering is one profession that the ongoing recession hasn't negatively affected. "They're predicting that we'll have a significant shortage of engineers in the future."

That will hold especially true in Saratoga County.

Upperclassmen in Ballston Spa could theoretically be some of the first hires at the Foundry Company microchip

manufacturing facility in Malta, slated for a 2012 opening. It is expected to employ 1,465, mostly in high-tech-trained positions.

"With nanotechnology and the Foundry Company coming in, we want kids to become skilled in practicable problem solving using technology," said Roberts.""

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