Academics Robotics fuels inquiry, innovation

Jose Corpuz ’85 built the Millennium Falcon.

The one at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, that is. The Principal Software Engineer at Walt Disney World, he was the lead engineer for the Millenium Falcon. “Yes, I built the Millenium Falcon,” Corpuz said. “And yes, she is still a hunk of junk.”

Now, 30 years later, this Lab alumnus serves as a mentor to his alma mater’s Robotics team.

“Robotics is a club,” said Darren Fuller, the faculty advisor for the high school robotics team. “We’re not considered an academic club but we should be. We’re not considered a sport, but we should be. We like to say it’s the sport of the mind.”

Lab Robotics drive team practice before competition. Pictured above from left to right are Clara Cui, Jiho Song, Ketan Kandula, Josiah Okoro, and Mihir Epel.

With over 40 members spread across three teams, the Robotics club has grown immensely since its founding five years ago. Eli Erling ’22 and Jay Molony ’23 were two of the students who created the club back in 2019, and they quickly added Fuller as their faculty advisor.

Pictured in the foreground from left to right are Clara Cui, Lucas Caldentey, Josiah Okoro, and Vivianna Nieto

“At first it was really hard,” Molony said of Robotics in 2019, who is now a freshman at Johns Hopkins University. “You don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t have resources, you can't do well. We didn’t do well at first. And in 2023, we’re one of the best—if not the best—teams in the city of Chicago.”

Molony credits mentors, like Corpuz, for the club's quick successes. Fuller coordinates with professionals within the Chicago community and beyond to come to Robotics and help the students learn the mechanics, engineering, electrical, business planning, fundraising, and more to make the club successful. At Lab, Middle School students have access to LEGO® Robotics, before moving on to the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition in high school.

Both Erling and Molony are—aptly—studying mechanical engineering, and credit Robotics for giving them a jump start on their career paths. Molony received a merit scholarship from Johns Hopkins because of his involvement in Robotics.

“The value placed on learning by doing at Lab is a big part of Robotics,” said Erling. “We weren’t worried if we would succeed or fail. Here at Marquette University, I’m realizing how much Lab fostered a love of learning for me.”

The infectious nature of Robotics is palpable during practice or through a brief conversation with the club's members and faculty advisors. For many students, this is where they found their community at Lab. And, their mentors.

“Mr. Fuller is the single best thing to happen to robotics at Lab,” said Molony. “The time it takes to manage this team is huge. The kind of person it takes is wild. He spends so much time and energy doing robotics.”

Jose Corpuz '85 posing next to a Rebel Alliance Blue Squadron starfighter at Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World in Buena Vista, Florida.

Fuller’s wife, Teresa Serangeli, joined as a faculty advisor for Robotics, and their daughter is currently a member of the high school robotics team. The club shows no signs of slowing down, as Fuller and Serangeli just traveled to Singapore, where they attended the 2023 FIRST Global Challenge to learn about Robotics teams from around the world.

Whether training students around the world or at home in Chicago, Robotics fosters the type of experiential learning upon which Lab was founded.

To support clubs like Robotics and the strong academic programming here at Lab, give to the Fund for Lab today.

The bedrock of Lab's philanthropy efforts, the Fund for Lab, provides the Laboratory Schools with funding that allow continued investment in the people and programs at the heart of the Lab experience. Every gift, no matter the size, makes an immediate and lasting impact to ensure that Lab continues to thrive.