The computer science major is serving as a volunteer mentor for the robotics competition team at the Dos Pueblos High School Engineering Academy,something he is uniquely qualified for because he went through the whole process himself as a Dos Pueblos senior from 2008-2009.

“The experience I had doing robotics really did change my life. I feel like I want to give that opportunity to other students to take the program for everything that it is, so someone else can have the same experience with the program that I did,” Wojcik says.

While a Dos Pueblos senior, Wojcik primarily served on the programming team, but also worked with the electrical and wiring of the robot, and was one of the drivers during FIRST Robotics Competitions.

“I really liked the problem-solving -- being able to look at things in different ways to make it better,” Wojcik says.

The team, called the D’Penguineers, garnered accolades as a regional finalist and a regional winner before competing in the championships in Atlanta, Ga. Ranked seventh going into division finals, the D’Penguineers competed against teams staffed by other students as well as professional engineers, and took home a division finalist award.

By offering his expertise, guidance and encouragement to the current student team building a robot for the 2011 competition, Wojcik follows in the footsteps of a mentor from his senior year, UC Santa Barbara alumnus Lennie Araki ’83, who works at FLIR systems.

Wojcik had had only one computer science class when he started on the robotics team, “so a lot of the stuff that was necessary for robotics wasn’t really taught,” he says. “With (Araki’s) experience, he was able to show me what computer science really is – designing a system of instructions to do something faster than you could have done it any other way.”

Wojcik found that he and the other students really responded to the project-based learning environment created for the robotics competition.

“Once that builds up, you just feel a lot more free to think freely and try things that you wouldn’t really have thought of otherwise when your teacher really relates to you,” Wojcik says. “You help each other through things you don’t know. All this creates an environment that makes learning fun to do.”

“The nontraditional learning environment also draws students from very different groups on campus. “A lot of students look at science and engineering as ‘that’s boring or that’s for nerds,’ “ Wojcik says. “The academy is really changing the culture at the high school and making engineering and science cool. Football players, cheerleaders join – it’s become a cool thing not just for smart nerdy kids who sit in the corner and talk mathematics.”

“We’ve had a line out the door of people wanting to get into our program,” Academy Director Amir Abo-Shaeer says.

The team atmosphere also fosters a connection between the students. “You really create a bond with the subgroup because you’re there with them for 10 hours a day,” says Wojcik, who put in 1,000 hours over the course of the year, far more than the required 160 hours.

His commitment continued last year as he spent 60 to 70 hours a week during the peak build time mentoring students – while taking 21 hours of classes. This year, he plans to cut back on classes to help balance school, his part-time job and his mentoring.

While Wojcik focuses on the programming team, he also helps with logistics and presentations about the program, which gives students leadership and workplace skills usually learned on the job. “I really want to create the environment where they aren’t restricted by what they don’t know. It gives them time to learn more, rather than to sit around and try to figure things out,” Wojcik says. “Right now, we are ramping up all the students. On Jan. 8, we’ll start the actual work (of building the robot).”

Wojcik not just teaching, he’s learning too.

“As I’m teaching things to the students, I’m learning things about it, too. Because teaching is the best way to learn, as I do that year to year, I’m going to end up knowing things much better,” Wojcik says.

He has also been inspired to become teacher.

“Now I’ve had this experience with (Abo-Shaeer), who I think is an amazing teacher, and it’s gotten me interested in education, so now there’s a great chance that I will come back to teaching,” Wojcik says.

“I tell my students every 
day, if you follow your heart, everything is going to be okay. … I don’t
 think enough people follow their passions.” Abo-Shaeer says.

But Wojcik won’t come back for just any school, he says.

“If I become a high school teacher, I would want to go back to the DP Academy. If I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have as much fun,” Wojcik says.

About Team 1717 D’Penguineers Team 1717, the D'Penguineers, is a robotics team as part of the international FIRST Robotics Competition, from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, Calif. FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, encourages young people to pursue educational and career opportunities in the fields of math, science, engineering, and technology, while promoting "gracious professionalism." Unlike many teams, all 32 student members of Team 1717 are high school seniors, which allows the academy to serve more students. All Team 1717 students take the Advanced Engineering Physics and the FIRST Robotics courses offered with the support of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, through the Regional Occupation Program, in which theye learn business and leadership skills in addition to more advanced physics and engineering. They also participate in specialty groups focusing on computer programming, electrical engineering, and mechanics. -- Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy

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