LIVINGSTON, NJ — On behalf of Livingston High School’s (LHS) technology department, James Novotny, Supervisor of Business for Livingston Public Schools, recently accepted a $10,000 grant from the Columbia Bank Foundation in support of the high school’s award-winning tech squads, including three robotics teams and the EcoLancers vehicle design team.

LHS students and Novotny are pictured above with Columbia Bank president and Columbia Bank Livingston branch manager Michael Novo.

Novotny’s role as a coach and advisor for these students is to challenge them to build robots and extremely fuel-efficient vehicles, relying almost completely on their own initiative. He explained that these programs are set up so that the members create their own documentation, communicate with other schools and engineers to obtain technical advice, request materials from corporations and design the cars and robots.

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The LHS technology program’s hands-on system facilitates a real-world experience where students learn both engineering and life skills.

In addition to imparting sage advice to his teams, Novotny has secured several impressive grants that have financed the students’ accomplishments.

He explained that the most recent grant from the Columbia Bank Foundation came after he contacted them with proposal. He said that grants like this one affirm that the teams’ projects result from esteemed technology.

According to Novotny, grant applications require detailed explanations of what the teams have accomplished and what they aspire to do. Each grant the teams win serves as proof that their technological feats merit financial support for future endeavors.

The Columbia Bank Foundation grant was not the first that Novotny has obtained, as a $20,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest New Jersey was granted to LHS to form a third robotics team late last year.

Another grant he applied for from BAE Systems, which manufactures electronics for the military, was awarded to the LHS robotics team to be used for a collaborative venture with another robotics team in Israel.

According to Novotny, an Israeli team in Arad will build half of a robot while the Livingston team constructs the other half as part of this international robot-building project. The Livingston students will travel to Israel at the end of June, and members of the Israeli team will come to Livingston in the winter.

Other financial assistance comes from parent donations, which Novotny noted are sometimes matched by the parents’ employers.

More about LHS Robotics:

According to Novotny, Livingston’s robotics teams consistently have more applicants than slots available, causing a need for students to meet certain criteria in order to be accepted onto a team.

There are currently three LHS robotic teams consisting 15 members each, who begin meeting in August just before school begins and continue to meet through the end of June.

Juniors are assigned leadership roles so that seniors can act as mentors, and team members work on their robots for 20-to-25 hours per week. Novotny also regularly meets with the team leaders, who disseminate information to the team. In addition to working as a team, there is also a significant amount of individual problem solving involved throughout the process.

Novotny noted that the Emerald Knights robotics team won the Best Documentation Award at the New Jersey State Championship Tournament and that the team’s system has been “an inspiration to other schools and robotic teams.” In fact, the Livingston team has even helped other high schools initiate their own robotic teams.

Novotny said he is “more interested in students’ potential and wanting to grow than what the members know when they join the team.”

Students are also able to hone in on and develop their specific skills. For instance, one team member whose academic focus was art ultimately worked on graphic-related parts of the project. Adding also that several special need students have been major assets to the team, Novotny stated that team members learn and flourish as they figure out how to build the robots.

“In 10 years, students won’t remember how well a robot performed, but will remember how well the team performed,” said Novotny, who also noted that many team members often move on to attend prestigious colleges and have successful careers. 

Novotny said the team culture is that of cooperation and scientific integrity and that everyone supports one another. Even teams from other schools prefer to help one another rather than considering each other nemeses, as Livingston works closely with teams from Madison, Chatham, Millburn and Golda Och Academy, Novotny said.

“Part of your responsibility is to help others learn,” said Novotny, adding that alumni often return to help out and that the cooperative nature of robotics is one of his favorite aspects of advising for the team. “That’s why I do it. Robotics have a positive impact on hundreds of teens.”

Novotny's motto is, “Figure out what you do well and do it better than anything else.”

More about LHS EcoLancers:

When Novotny discovered Shell’s Eco-marathon—an international energy-efficiency competition for which participants construct cars with the objective of attaining the highest-possible fuel efficiency—he knew he wanted to form an ecological car team at LHS.

When he finally found four LHS students interested in competing in 2011, Novotny and several other LHS technology teachers made a two-year plan to develop an energy-efficient vehicle in time for the 2013 Eco-marathon.

Shell chooses the participants after reviewing the teams’ drawings and plans. According to Novotny, most of the competitors come from prestigious universities, so being a high school enrolled in the Eco-marathon is an honor and an achievement in itself.

The EcoLancers sometimes work from 7 a.m. to midnight and on vacation days constructing the LHS car, which has attended every Shell Eco-marathon since 2013. This year, the competition will be held in Sonoma, Ca. in April.

Out of the 110 vehicles competing—which include electric, alcohol, gasoline, natural gas, hydrogen and diesel cars—only about 70 make it onto the track, Novotny said.

Members of the EcoLancers, who use a gasoline vehicle in competition, are similar to the LHS robotics team in that they learn how to procure the parts that they need and acquire technological knowledge as they work.

Novotny recalled that a participating student once inspired a company to donate a $4,000 dynamometer (a device that measures force, torque, or power) by explaining exactly what the team was doing.

Another example of how resourceful team members can be is when the team asked Honda for an engine. According to Novotny, Honda doesn’t typically donate engines, but the team was very persuasive and Honda responded in the spirit of fellow engineer courtesy.

As he reminisced on these instances, Novotny said shy students often become assertive as they perfect the art of requesting parts from companies.

Also similar to the robotics team, members of the Eco-Lancers have also gone on to attend prestigious colleges and universities after graduating and have also secured respectable positions in the workforce.

Both the robotics teams and the EcoLancers offer real-world skills and experiences while also providing an opportunity for students to have fun while learning while also engaging in teamwork.

For more information about the LHS Robotics Teams click HERE.

Learn more about the EcoLancers website HERE or watch the EcoLancers at work in this Classroom Close-Up NJ video.