Watson Team Center Gives YSU Students Home for Competitive STEM Projects

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Rockets, 3-D printed airplanes, lunar rovers, BattleBots and concrete canoes take a lot of space and collaboration to build.

Giving bright young minds the room to think and innovate, the Frank and Norma Watson Team Center on the campus of Youngstown State University will house the university’s competitive STEM teams.

YSU celebrated the opening of the space Friday with an open house, thanking the donors for the project and giving them a chance to meet some of the students and see some of their team projects.

Although the teams have been competitive prior to the Watson Team Center, students have been meeting and building in smaller spaces across campus.

Tanner Tsvetkoff, a mechanical engineering student and one of the members of a BattleBot team, said they are currently in a redesign phase, building a robot that can compete on the “BattleBots” show on the Discovery Channel. Their latest creation will be known as the Emperor, the largest member of the penguin family.

Tsvetkoff said the BattleBot must be capable of taking on another robot, both inflicting and withstanding damage while in battle. Additionally, the design must look good for the television cameras.

The senior co-captain of the Penguin Baja Racing Team, Jared Bryarly said the team builds a new vehicle every year from the ground up and learns from the teams before them.

“That’s always one of the exciting things is seeing our growth over the years,” Bryarly said. “We always try to keep a mentality to leave it better than we found it and pass it down to the next team so that one day we can work towards bringing a first-place trophy to Youngstown.”

The team finished ninth out of about 250 teams worldwide last year, and Bryarly said they are getting respect from more prominent engineering schools by going onto the track and beating them.

Starting out in the summer with research and development, the team designs, runs analysis and then manufactures the vehicle. Last year the team traveled to compete in Tennessee, New York and Arizona.

Bryarly said being a member of the competition teams provides real world experience, including practice in problem-solving.

“It’s a great program,” Bryarly said. “I really think the competition teams at Youngstown State are such a great addition to the engineering department. Our professors do a great job getting us ready with a theory. But the competition teams allow us to apply that to the real world and solve problems in our engineering work, but also in manufacturing.”

Bryarly adds solving problems requires creativity and innovation. He’s looking forward to using the new space so they can work together on the Baja vehicle instead of spreading out in spaces across campus.

Katie Chludcinski, another senior engineering student working on the Baja project, said she really gets a lot out of the hands-on project and can relate what she’s learning from it directly to what she does at her job at Steel Equipment Specialists.

The Concrete Canoe team has won three of its last four regional competitions, placing second in the national competition. The Bridge team finished first in four of the past five regional contests.

There will be nine teams slated to use the new facility, which is named after Frank and Norma Watson, the parents of Ellen Tressel. Her parents would be so pleased with this facility and her father would be over the moon, she said,. She described father as a mechanical engineer who graduated from Youngstown College in 1949, and at age 25 became the president of Youngstown Welding and Engineering Co. in Austintown. He hired many engineering students from YSU through the years.

“Dad’s generosity opened the doors for many students. Even though manufacturing and engineering have certainly evolved over the last half century, he would be so impressed with your innovation, your intelligence, your persistence and your passion for this facility and for the drive, the competition and the experience that you’re getting first hand,” Ellen Tressel said.

The late Frank and Norma Watson were active supporters of YSU for more than 70 years, including giving a $1 million donation in 2016. They received the YSU Friends of the University Award in 2007. Also among the donors who made the facility happen were Vince and Phyllis Bacon, who Ellen Tressel said were great friends of her parents’ and their generosity has gone above and beyond.

A previously unused space on campus will now provide new learning experiences for the students and allow for team collaboration.

“It’s special because for the last 40 years, we’ve been driving on the middle of our campus and seeing this blighted property for how many years – and now it’s been beautified,” said Paul McFadden, YSU Foundation president. “What a perfect utilization for our STEM students who have been achieving so well in STEM competitions. For so many reasons, we’re all smiles this morning.”

Tressel said besides helping YSU students remain and grow competitively, both nationally and internationally, the Watson Team Center will provide other important skills, including teaching future engineers and innovators to work together.

“This is the Watson Team Center,” Tressel said. “We’re going to build teams. We’re going to build students that can go out and become parts of other teams and make a difference in our region.”

Pictured at top: Tanner Tsvetkoff, Noah Paszkowski and Brandon Malahtaris are mechanical engineering students involved in the BattleBots program at Youngstown State University.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.