Giant robot moves Southwest ISD students into career opportunities

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Legacy High School

Inside a cubicle of high glass walls, 18-year-old Angel Mosqueda held what looked like the largest-ever remote control, with a full keyboard underneath a screen the size of an Etch A Sketch.

But the object the Legacy High School senior controlled was even more remarkable — a massive robotic arm holding a tiny dry-erase marker, which he was using to play tic-tac-toe with himself on a whiteboard.

For Mosqueda, this was more than just a game. Learning to use the robot will help him along the path toward becoming a mechanical engineer.

“It’s just something that I’m passionate about,” he said. “I like to work with machines.”

The welding robot was worth $92,000 in 2005, when it was one of the first Toyota installed at its San Antonio plant, said Melissa Sparks, a spokeswoman for the automaker.

“It started our line for us,” she said.

Now the machine has found a second life in retirement, teaching Legacy students how to seal cars against water and other environmental factors, and helping them earn industry-recognized certifications in safety and advanced manufacturing.

“They have that advantage where they’ve actually experienced a program that’s being used on the production line,” said Dionicio Ramirez, who teaches engineering and robotics. “It gives them a head start.”

Legacy became the first school, and the only local one, to receive a welding robot from Toyota. The company later donated one to Texas State Technical College in Harlingen.

Before Legacy even opened in the fast-growing Southwest Independent School District last year, Toyota donated five smaller, table-top robotic arms to the school. Later that year, the automaker trucked over the huge robot in an 18-wheeler, using a forklift to install it in Ramirez’s classroom.

Ramirez kept it covered until the spring, piquing his students’ curiosity. When the cloth came off, some students were excited. Others were intimidated. They showed off the robot to elementary and middle-school kids. Fellow classmates still slow down when walking by the classroom and stare at it.

The students in Ramirez’s robotics class are mostly seniors who can soon leverage their new skills into internships or careers at Toyota. They’ll be able to pursue the two-year advanced manufacturing technician program at St. Philip’s College, which allows them to pay off their degree by working for the auto company three days a week, Sparks said.

Before they turn 21, they could be making between $50,000 and $70,000 per year — starting pay for technicians experienced in robotics, Sparks said.

“That’s the category of team member that we are always lacking in,” she said.

The robots are not just bait to get students to work at Toyota, Sparks said. Students use them to learn skills they can apply to other jobs, including at Amazon’s new Schertz warehouse. Those skills are also building blocks for students pursuing higher-level engineering degrees.

Source: San Antonio Express-News By: Alia Malik