Polk robotics students learn real-world skills in preparation for technology careers

At Winter Haven High School’s Technobotics Academy, students are building real world skills they can use in technology-related jobs — jobs that are on the rise in the area as the result of strategic Polk County economic development efforts. They study mechanical engineering, computer programming, physics, and use kits to build robots. Each year in the program, they expand upon their skills.

At age 17, senior Zach Zinsmeister has already designed and built a robot. Using prefabricated materials, he’s created a robot that plays and wins the game Starstruck in competitions. “I’m hoping to go into mechanical engineering,” says Zinsmeister. Zinmeister’s robotics class helped him make the choice to pursue a technology career. He states “it showed me I actually can do very well in the field.”

He and teammates Halan Badilla, the driver and competition scout, and Arthur Upfield, the programmer, are among some 98 students studying robotics at the high school under lead teacher Dominique Hall. “When we were kids, we had LEGO’s. This is kind of what it reminds me of,” Hall says. “We expose them to a variety of things, from the programming to the engineering,” he explains.

At Mulberry High School, Todd Thuma began teaching robotics last fall as part of a brand-new program that will expand as freshman-through senior-year student’s progress through the program. Thuma’s goal is to train students who can work with manufacturing, logistics and other industries that use robotics. “We hope to have students who can walk into that environment and work with their machines,” he explains.

Students who progress through the program might have the opportunity to intern, earn certification for their skills through online testing, and build a robot — perhaps a police or rescue robot — with multifunctional skills.

With training and certification on computer programs like Autodesk Inventor, Polk County students are building real-world skills that can parlay into high-paying careers in a technology field. Even as high school students, they can be hired by businesses to work on digital designs that otherwise might be very costly to develop, Thuma suggests.