Aytan Geschwind of Maplewood, a junior at Golda Och Academy (GOA), grows animated when he talks about engineering, circuits, and robotics. He remembers playing with circuits as a tot with his mother, who happens to be an engineer, and making a model dinosaur for a second-grade project — complete with sound effects and eyes that lit up.
Fast forward a few years, and it seems natural that he is president of CodeRunners, the GOA robotics team, for the second year in a row. It also seems appropriate that, at the end of the month, he is traveling to Detroit as a finalist for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Dean’s List, an individual award recognizing the leadership skills of high school sophomores and juniors on robotics teams.
A year-long national robotics contest with qualifying local and regional meets throughout the year, FTC, which began in 1992, culminates in a “world” competition among state and regional winners, as well as some international teams.
Aytan will head to Detroit without his teammates because the CodeRunners was not among the 11 teams that moved forward to what is known as the super-regional competition after the New Jersey state meet was held in February. Instead, he will be in the running to be one of 10 students in the country named to the organization’s Dean’s List.
Like the other finalists, Aytan was nominated by his peers, and his coach, Dr. Arco Jeng, was required to describe his accomplishments in a written statement. Aytan said he was honored to be named a finalist, saying he believed he was chosen because he has “focused on educating new students and getting more people involved” in CodeRunners. In fact, when NJJN visited GOA, Aytan was working with eighth graders, guiding them as they tested robots.
Learning new skills is a strong suit for Aytan. He became interested in computers and programming in middle school, he said, by building websites and learning to program a web browser. “I kind of started teaching myself programming languages and went down the technology rabbit hole on the internet, teaching myself different things, and each new thing would lead to another.”
Aytan is looking forward to attending the competition to meet the other finalists, but also to observe the top teams.
“I think it’s going to be pretty cool to meet other people who have similar interests as me,” he told NJJN in a March interview at GOA. “It will also be fun to see some of the best teams in the world going head to head. Even at the state competition, there were some really high scores we were not expecting. So, it’s kind of cool to see when a team gets a perfect score.”
Although the challenge presented to the students at the event is slightly different from year to year, students must build a robot to accomplish some task, announced in early September. Then, students have a defined number of weeks to design and build their respective robots before the first local meets begin. At those meets, teams start gathering points to qualify for state championships. This year’s task was to build a robot that can stack blocks, knock over balls, and both lift and set down a set of objects. The robot must also be able to run on its own for 30 seconds.
With his senior year on the horizon, Aytan is beginning to consider his post-high school options, and he told NJJN that joining the Israel Defense Forces is a “serious possibility.” Though he didn’t offer any other suggestions, he confirmed that he would like to specialize in electrical engineering and computer programming, and it was not difficult to detect a twinkle in his eye when this reporter mentioned Israel’s high-tech sector.