FHSU students take top honors at robotics contest
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
He said he's been taking things apart to see how they work since he was a youngster.
Now a junior in college, Mason Younger's ability to put something together and make it work won him a national championship.
Younger, a Fort Hays State University student from Hays, combined with another area student, freshman Cole Younger from Atwood, to win the robotics competition at last month's International Technology and Engineering Educators Association's National Conference in Columbus, Ohio.
"When I was little, I'd get in trouble for taking apart TV remotes and the VCR," Younger said. "I've always been intrigued by technology and how things work ... take something apart and see if I could get it back together."
The duo's effort was one of two national performances but the first in the robotics category for Fort Hays, which long has placed high in the live manufacturing class against other schools across the nation.
Zach Patterson, a senior from Pratt, placed first in the teaching lesson category. He had placed as high as second at nationals twice before and helped the live manufacturing team place third at nationals this years.
But neither Younger nor Studer knew anything about the competition until this semester.
Younger is a computer science major who happened to hear about the TECA organization in his communications systems class.
Studer had come to Fort Hays to take pre-engineering classes with plans to later transfer to Kansas State University's electrical engineering program in three years. But he switched to the manufacturing technology second semester.
"I really like working with my hands and always want to be out making something," Studer said. " I didn't want to be stuck at a desk, and I knew in manufacturing, I'd be the guy making it."
Younger and Studer didn't know each other until they attended a meeting of Fort Hays' TECA chapter one evening.
No one had signed up for robotics, and both thought they would give a shot.
"I was kind of iffy about doing it at first," Younger said. "But once I read over the rules and parameters, the challenge was up my alley."
Kris Munsch, an instructor for the Institute of Applied Technology, said he knew Younger was a good one early on.
"I asked him one day if he could design a cell phone cover for an iPhone," Munsch said. "I thought it would take him a couple of weeks. The next morning, he came in saying, 'Check this out.' He had done it overnight. When they find their niche, you can help feed it."
What intrigued Younger about the robotics competition was that knew he had "a lot of my own components and parts."
"I had most of the materials to make a robot," Younger said, "and Cole helped with a lot of the documentation."
At nationals, the robotics competition included building a robot that the students had to guide, by camera, to pick up a "bomb" and place it in a bomb disposal box. The task had to be done in two minutes or less. The Fort Hays team accomplished it in about 90 seconds. The competition also included a written explanation of the process.
"I was pretty excited (at the awards ceremony)," Younger said. "I knew we were the only team that had gotten under two minutes. I thought we had won."
Younger gives a lot of credit to one of his teachers at Hays High School, Chris Dinkel, for learning just how important the documentation portion of building is.
"A lot of the competition wasn't just about the robot; it was all the documentation," Younger said. "When I had (Dinkel) for research and design and drafting classes in high school, he taught us how to do the writing, too."
"He also taught me a lot about auto cad," added Younger, a 2010 graduate of HHS, "and I drew the robot on the auto cad."
Fort Hays, one of 18 colleges and universities competing in Columbus, placed in four of the seven contests.
In addition to the third-place finish in manufacturing, FHSU also finished second in the transportation category.
Another Atwood student, junior Max Kisner, was a member of both those teams.
Others on the transportation team were junior Adam Wells and senior Cody Fisher from Garden Plain. Joining Kisner and Pixler on the manufacturing team were Fisher and Brookville senior Kate Armstrong.