Pre-University Engineering and FIRST Robotics

Pre-University Engineering

SJA’s Design, Innovation, and Engineering program is an elective, multi-faceted system of guidance, coursework, work experience, mentoring, and training that provides students with pre-university experience in engineering and design. Our program aims to increase the number of students—particularly young women and other students traditionally underrepresented in the STeM disciplines—in science and technology programs. Courses include Introduction to Robotics, Introduction to Design, Innovation, and Development, Engineering, Design, and Development, Digital Electronics, Civil Engineering and Architecture, Biotechnical Engineering, and Game Design.

FIRST Robotics

SJA’s robotics team coach, Jim Baker, described robotics as, “the only high-school team where everyone can go pro.”

St. Johnsbury Academy participates in the FIRST Robotics competition, an annual national contest in which student compete against the best young engineers in the country.

Key to the SJA team’s preparation is its access to the Academy’s Gregory N. Sweeny Applied Engineering Center. Students design many of the robot’s parts using 3-D computer-aided design software; the designs are then converted using computer-aided machining software and then the required parts are manufactured using the school’s CNC machine. Students are participating fully in designing and machining the parts and gaining expertise in all steps of the process.

Information about each year’s contest is released in early January; teams are given six weeks to build and program their robot. During those weeks, students work on their robots after school every day, and even work on Saturdays. The robots must be made of certain materials and conform to strict size, shape, and other rules.

Visit our STeM page for more information on our engineering and other STeM fields at the Academy.

Gregory N. Sweeny Applied Engineering Center

The Sweeny Applied Engineering Center is a great resource for teachers and students. It consists of a Full Spectrum Laser Cutter, a Makerbot Replicator (3D Printer) with Digitizer (3D Scanner), a manual lathe, a Ganesh Heavy-Duty CNC Milling Machine, six 3Doodlers, electronics supplies, and a collection of tabletop tools. We have recently added three more 3D Printers (Cube 3rd Generation), a Roland tabletop CNC mill, and a vinyl cutter with heat transfer accessories. Software to support student design is available in the space, and students are able to use their iPads for additional design work.

The space has been used by classes from around the school: engineering, psychology, literature, chemistry, calculus, and game design among others. Clubs like robotics, FBLA, and Fashion Design make use of the tools for their projects, and individual students and faculty have used the Maker Space to solve problems and explore design. Biweekly workshops are offered to introduce beginners to the capabilities of the Sweeny Applied Engineering Center in topics like Laser Engraving, Wearable Circuits, Jewelry Making with 3D Printing, Puppet Making, and more!

Applied Engineering Semester

The Applied Engineering Semester is an interdisciplinary program for students interested in concentrated study within the disciplines of computer science, engineering, science modeling, and media studies. This program draws on the resources of the Gregory N. Sweeny Applied Engineering Center and Immersive Learning Laboratory to support collaborative design work in the larger regional community. The physical sciences will serve as the focus for developing skills in programming, 3D modeling, interaction design, and technical communication. As part of the program, students will develop a professional design portfolio and learn leadership.

Students will spend some class days in the lab while other days will be more focused on community connections outside the classroom. They will spend many days off campus on a few extended trips (e.g. Boston) as well as trips to locations in Vermont such as science museums, community maker spaces, and tech startups. The 4-block format gives students the freedom to use time and space differently than in a traditional classroom, constrained by the needs of their projects instead of by a typical class schedule.

For more information on our Science program, visit the Science department page.


The Robotics Club uses the Gregory N. Sweeny Applied Engineering Center as they design and build a robot for the FIRST Robotics competition.