Pictured during robotics practice is Wheeling Park High School teacher and robotics coach Luke Shepherd with Patriot student Trenton Weaver.

A talented Wheeling Park High School teacher is guiding what has become an increasingly popular program among Ohio County Schools students.

 Patriot physics teacher Luke Shepherd began the school’s robotics program in his first year at Wheeling Park three years ago. Since then, the program has grown, and Wheeling Park High School will soon host a statewide competition.

 “I started a competitive robotics team my first year at WPHS,” Shepherd said. “I had a handful of students, and we went to four or five competitions that year.  Unfortunately, COVID really put the competitive robotics scene on hold for a year. So this year, I was in a rebuilding phase with only two returning students…The program has grown significantly this year. I have 15 students on the team, and these students have built four competition robots in order to compete in this year’s game called Tipping Point. While the popularity is growing at the high school, robotics is also taking a significant foothold in OCS middle schools too. Bridge Street, Triadelphia and Wheeling Middle all have competitive robotics teams this year. We have had a lot of support to get these programs started, and the students have really been engaged with these programs at all levels.”      

Shepherd said competitive robotics allows students to develop problem solving, coding, math and communication skills. He said those are important aspects for a successful robotics team. Shepherd said students get to be creative in how they design and build the robots.

 “If I go to a competition with 24 teams, I might see 15 or 16 different methods of students trying to all solve the same problem,” Shepherd said. “The game changes every year, and each competition presents new challenges for students to conquer, so it is an ever-changing game through the normal season. Students also get to travel across the state to compete in competitions which is always fun. They will also have the opportunity to qualify for the state-level competition and then potentially qualify for the World-Level competition to be held in Dallas, Texas, where the best teams from around the world come to compete. There is a lot of motivation to perform at a high level, and this gets the students excited.”

Shepherd said robotics is recognized by the WVSSAC as a sport. The first ever state championship will be held May 16 at Fairmont State University. He said West Virginia is among the first eight U.S. states to recognize robotics as a sport.

 “It’s very exciting to be at the forefront of this competitive scene,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd said Ohio County Schools Robotics will host its first competitive robotics event on Feb. 26 at Wheeling Park High School. Nearly 30 teams from across the Mountain State will be take part in the competition. Gates open at 8 a.m., and admission is free. Shepherd said he is as excited for the event as the competitors.

  “It is a fast-paced and entertaining competition,” he said. “These students have been working hard since October.  All of the students, coaches and event volunteers would love for everyone to come check it out.” 

 Shepherd teaches honors physics, AP physics, robotics and aerospace engineering at Wheeling Park. He is also the advisor of the school’s Gaming Club and Robotics Club. He previously taught physics and astronomy at Ohio University Eastern for five years.  

 Shepherd graduated from Tyler Consolidated High School in 2003. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics from Wheeling Jesuit University. From there, Shepherd earned a master’s degree and then a doctoral degree in physics from West Virginia University. He didn’t realize he wanted to become a teacher until he was nearing the end of graduate school.

 “My favorite moments from grad school were when I was tutoring students or teaching introductory lab classes while being a teaching assistant at WVU,” he said. “That’s when I decided to enter education. It is a fulfilling career, and the students make every day an adventure.”    Shepherd’s favorite part of teaching is exposing his students to science and engineering. He enjoys students who are excited to learn.

 “I love seeing students have that ‘eureka’ moment,” Shepherd said. “The best part of my day is when my students start to ask questions about how the universe works. Witnessing my students be inquisitive and curious never gets old.”