Technology Director (aka "the robot guy")
Michael Vawter was lead programmer, builder, tester, and handler for the MindStorm Troopers FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team. They competed for four years, becoming the first team ever to win 1st place Robot Performance at the FLL World Festival two years in a row. The team also won the 2nd place Champion’s Award (best overall) in '05 and 3rd place Champion’s in '06. Michael was invited to serve as a Tech Judge at the World Festival the very next year, and has continued to serve as a judge for international, national, and state championships ever since. He has also mentored and coached teams that have gone on to win state and international championships of their own.
Michael has been featured in Popular Science Magazine, Columbus CEO Magazine and the National Gallery for Young Inventors. He published peer-reviewed psychophysics research at Denison University in 2011 and went on to earn a masters in entrepreneurship and innovation. In his ongoing career as a robotics teacher, Michael helps students and teachers to analyze and solve technological problems more creatively by integrating their right-brain and left-brain capacities.
Director of Operations
Gail Vawter holds degrees in Computer Science and Economics from Denison University, as well as an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University. She has worked in the Information Technology industry for over 20 years, but her passion is for helping young students to get excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). As a teacher and coach of student science teams, she has won numerous national and global awards with FIRST Lego League (FLL), NSTA/Toshiba ExploraVision, Christopher Columbus Awards, NASA Space Day, US Army’s eCybermission, National Gallery for Young Inventors, and more. Her team’s accomplishments have been recognized by the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives.
Classroom Managers and Robot Geniuses (listed in alphabetical order)
Aditya Chittari (Robot Genius) was the lead programmer for The Lego Lords, the FIRST LEGO League team that represented Ohio at the 2017 Razorback Invitational in Arkansas (winning the 5th place Robot Performance) and the 2018 World Festival in Detroit (placing 28th in the Robot Performance). He won 3 awards at the 2017 Ohio State Science Olympiad Championship, and placed 5th out of over 5 million students in the the 2011 World Education Games. He has four years experience teaching LEGO Robotics.
Ashton Cofer (Master Robot Genius) attends Columbus Academy High School and has been working for Robot Academy for many years. Ashton competed in FIRST LEGO League for 5 years on the Incredibots team, winning the 1st Place Champions Award at the 2016 FLL World Championship and 2nd Place Champions Award at the 2014 Open European Championship. Ashton has 7 years of experience teaching robotics workshops at local schools, science museums, scouting groups, and public events. He has won several national STEM competitions and presented at the 2015 and 2016 White House Science Fairs. He gave a TED talk in 2017 which got over one million views! Ashton currently competes in the National Robotics Challenge (NRC) and mentors younger students. Overall, Ashton loves working with robots and enjoys sharing his knowledge with others!
Chris Henricksen (Classroom Manager) holds a B.A. in Political Science and a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. He has worked as an educator for over 20 years. Chris taught Computer Literacy to 6th, 7th and 8th graders in Mansfield City Schools before joining Westerville City Schools in 2007 as a 5th grade Science teacher. In 2012, Chris was honored as Invention Convention's Columbus-area "Teacher of Excellence". Two years later, he sailed for 10 days aboard the NOAA research vessel Henry B. Bigelow as a "Teacher at Sea", assisting onboard scientists in surveying marine organism populations in the Gulf of Maine and George's Bank. Prior to becoming a teacher, Chris worked as a Systems Consultant for an international technology company and served in the US Navy. He is thrilled to join Robot Academy and looks forward to working with youngsters interested in the challenges and rewards inherent to the STEM fields.
Connor Frazier (Master Robot Genius) is a Mechanical Engineering Major at Otterbein University. He loves to work with children and foster the next generation of STEM professionals. Connor loves using LEGO to teach engineering because there are always multiple solutions to a given problem and the only limit is one's imagination! Connor hopes to foster those problem-solving skills and imagination in kids as a Robot Genius.
Mann Arora (Robot Genius) was the Core Values Enforcer for The Lego Lords, the FIRST Lego League team that represented Ohio at the 2018 World Championship. The team also attended the Razorback invitational in Arkansas in 2017 and won 5th place for robot performance and 3rd place for teamwork. Mann has won several awards as a science olympiad, including 3rd place at the 2018 state competition.
Erika Kovach (Classroom Manager) is a 4th grade teacher at KIPP Columbus Elementary with 6 years of teaching experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Hispanic Linguistics. Immediately after graduation, Erika spent 4 years in Houston, Texas with Teach for America. Her drive comes from the belief that ALL children deserve a quality education that will lead them to a choice-filled life. She is currently working on a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from Ashland University.
Gina Clepper (Master Robot Genius) is studying Engineering at Purdue University. In middle school, she won numerous FIRST LEGO League tournaments: 2009 and 2011 Ohio State Championship; 2009 FLL World Championship Finalist; 2011 North American Open Tournament (2nd place Robot Performance and 2nd place Research Award). In high school, she was the 2014 Buckeye Regional finalist with FIRST Robotics Competition and the 2014 Grand Prize winner with MoonBots (Lego Robots). She has also led various robotics workshops and been a counselor for Camp Invention. She loves STEM and teaching others, but most of all she loves seeing crazy, creative ideas turn into reality!
Grace Krietemeyer (Master Robot Genius) has been working with Robot Academy for over 4 years. She is a senior at Dublin Jerome High School and is planning to major in Engineering next year. She is a current member of FTC team 6150 (Moderately Dangerous) and FRC team 1014 (Bad Robot). She was also a member of the well-known FLL team Mindstorms Megabytes, who were 2014 Ohio State Champions and placed 12th of 76 teams at Nationals.
Julie Bray (Master Robot Genius) competed in the FIRST LEGO League with The Incredibots for 3 years. During this time, the Incredibots went the Open European Championship in Spain and won the 2nd place champions award. They also represented Ohio at the Legoland championship in California and the World Festival in St. Louis (where they won 1st place overall). FLL inspired Julie to take her passion for STEM a step further, and she helped her team to enter other international innovation competitions such as the Google Science Fair and Conrad Spirit of Innovation Summit.
Kaitlin Berryman (Robot Genius) graduated from Dublin Jerome High School with honors and is studying Robotics and Electrical Engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She was the Computer-Aided Design leader of FRC Team 1014 Bad Robot and was also a member of the FTC Team 6150 Moderately Dangerous. She's won numerous leadership and technical awards, including the NCWIT computing award. She was an FRC Deans-List semi-finalist and represented Technology Education at the Ohio State Fair.
Kara Crowley (Classroom Manager) is a 3rd grade teacher at Darby Woods Elementary School with 10 years teaching experience and 5 years experience running Robotics after-school programs. Mrs. Crowley recently presented on robotics education at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Boston. She has won a number of prestigious teaching awards, including COSI's Teacher of the Year award and the American Wilderness School's teacher scholarship. She has the highest rating possible for a teacher in her public school system. She has been to over 20 countries and 6 out of 7 continents. Last year, the National Science Foundation funded her trip to Shark Bay, Australia to help with research on sharks in the ecosystem. Mrs. Crowley has a true passion for bringing STEM education to low income students and young girls.
Raghav Kallur (Robot Genius) is a sophomore at Dublin Jerome High School. He has been a member of the "Robot Rights" FLL robotics team since his 4th grade. His team qualified for the world festival twice and also for global innovation award. They have a patent pending on a Math game called Math Magic. Raghav is currently participating in FTC on a team called Moderately. In his spare time, Raghav likes to play soccer, violin and sketch.
Sahithi Thumuluri (Robot Genius) is a freshman at Dublin Jerome High School and has 5 years of FIRST robotics experience. As a part of FLL team Robot Rights, Sahithi travelled to the Ohio State championships and World Festival many times. Her team were Global Innovation Semi-finalists in 2015 and Ohio State Champions in 2017. They even won a first place inspiration award at the FLL World Festival in 2017. Sahithi now competes on the FTC team Moderately Dangerous, and is a software expert. She teaches at Kumon as a math and reading instructor for ages 3-16. Sahithi has won awards through NUMATs gifted awards and the Verizon app challenge, and has taken STEM related classes in and out of school. Sahithi is passionate and immensely excited to encourage young kids to experience the fun of robotics!
Savannah Cofer (Master Robot Genius) graduated from Columbus Academy and is attending Rice University for Engineering. She has the 'magic touch' with Lego Robots. Savannah mentors the Incredibots team that won the 1st Place Champions Award at the 2016 FIRST Lego League World Championship. For the past 9 years, she has won numerous awards at the state and international level in both FIRST LEGO League and the FIRST Tech Challenge. Savannah and her teammates won the Google Lunar X PRIZE MoonBots Challenge in 2014 and were national winners or finalists of several STEM competitions including the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards and the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. Savannah was invited to the 2016 White House Science Fair to honor her achievements with Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards. Savannah loves mentoring younger teams, teaching robotics workshops, and of course building wicked cool robots.
Soham Joshi (Robot Genius) first learned about Robot Academy when he attended as a student many years ago. He was a member of Robot Academy's FLL team in 2017, and helped the team to win many awards including the Global Innovation award (which recognizes the top 20 invention projects in the world for FLL). He has since created a team of his own and won the innovative solution award at the Ohio State championship. He has won awards through Ecybermisison and Exploravision as well, and has a passion for inventing. He has been working at Robot Academy for 2 years, and enjoys teaching about all the things he's learned.
Varun Chitiveli (Robot Genius) was the lead builder for The Lego Lords, the FIRST Lego League team that represented Ohio at the 2018 World Championship. The team also attended the Razorback invitational in Arkansas in 2017 and won 5th place for robot performance and 3rd place for teamwork. Varun knows several programming languages and is excellent at explaining mechanical design.
Varun Vallabhaneni (Master Robot Genius) graduated from Columbus Academy and is attending the University of Pennsylvania. He competed in FIRST Robotics for 7 years with the Incredibots, in which his team competed all over the world including the World Festival, North American Championship, and European Open Championship. During his last season, the team placed 2nd at the European Open Championship in Barcelona, Spain. He participated in the First Tech Challenge for three years in high school, and he has been one of the team co-captains. His team placed in the top 24 teams at the World Festival and have competed at numerous state championships. In 2014, his team won the Google Lunar X PRIZE Moonbots Challenge, and along with numerous national/international STEM awards in science research and entrepreneurship including the Conrad Foundation to the American Society for Engineering Education and the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. Earlier this year, his team was invited to exhibit at the 2016 White House Science Fair as a result of his experience with materials science research. Robotics has been an integral part of his life, and he loves mentoring other robotics teams and sharing his passion/experiences with younger kids when it comes to robotics and science!
Licensed Teachers - With a teacher:student ratio of 1:6, Robot Academy utilizes additional licensed teachers from local school districts (with full background checks).