Featuring Alumni- Philip Zanghi

Grad returns to mentor robotics students in program he grew up in


CRyptonite Robotics

Claw Bot, Zanghi’s senior year robot, picks up a game piece.

Donovan Nichols, Staff Writer

CRHS 2008 alumnus Philip Zanghi’s four years on Team 624 CRyptonite Robotics were filled with repairing robots, billowing capes, and hundreds of towering green hair spikes. Now, for the past 11 years, Zanghi has been a team mentor, helping teach and develop students’ skills so they can experience and learn, just like he did.

“As a mentor, I get to take a step away from the competition aspect of robotics and focus more on making sure the students are developing skills that help them be successful in their chosen field,” Zanghi said. “This means looking at longer term programs, and team sustainability. Something I couldn’t see as much before as a student is that the success of this team and its progression and growth is very much a function of mentor support. The last ten years have seen a solid core of dedicated mentorship, which has allowed the whole program to grow and flourish.”

Team 624 is part of the FIRST Robotics Competition, a global robotics contest for high school students. Each year in January, a new game is released, and teams have six weeks to design, build, and program a robot for the competition. During his four years on the team, Zanghi passed through many roles, from being robot driver to strategist and president during his senior season.

“I’ll always have a soft spot for my senior year robot, the Claw Bot,” Zanghi said. “Being president, I really felt like I owned the whole strategy, concept, build, and competition aspects of that season. The robot itself didn’t end up being the most effective concept for that particular game, but it was a great year of growth for the team. Between 2007 and 2008 we started incorporating more advanced programming, started the official ‘Pit Crew’ (the team responsible for performing maintenance the robot at competitions), and established a more robust scouting program. In general that year was a critical building year for the team and booster club, which paid off next season with the team’s first regional win.”

Besides robotics, Zanghi also played trumpet in band during his time at Cinco. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and now works at BP as a sub sea engineer.

“It’s a technologically challenging sector. We have to work with deep water wells in water depths up to 10,000 feet, temperatures over 300 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure produced by the fluids of over 15,000 psi,.” Zanghi said. “We work in corrosive seawater environments, and there is no human access possible during installation and operation. We work a lot with advanced materials and underwater remotely operated vehicles in order for our projects to be successful.”

While back in high school, Zanghi joined the team his freshman year after a friend saw the team’s robot demo during Fish Camp and convinced him to join. He said he always was interested in engineering, but that robotics “definitely confirmed that,” as well as better preparing him for a career in STEM.

There are a lot of similarities, and this of course is purposefully so,” Zanghi said. “FIRST does a great job presenting a challenge and having teams go through the steps to plan, build, and operate a robot to meet that challenge. You are presented with many scenarios that build leadership skills, and these in turn provide plenty of material when interviewing for an internship or full-time job. Conflict resolution, schedule/project management, working in a team, identifying and solving a problem, – these among many others are all skills that directly translate to the Engineering profession.”

Zanghi first started mentoring CRyptonite as an alumnus in 2009, helping out during the first weeks of the robot build season. Since then, he’s continued being involved as a team mentor.

“The team’s progression since I’ve left is outstanding,” Zanghi said. “Each year has built upon the last, growing the team’s capability to truly world-class. Sponsorships, outreach, recognition, have all increased dramatically. It’s great to see though, that the overall team culture and identity hasn’t changed. You can look more than ten years back in pictures and still see the drive team in a Superman pose during pre-match team intros. And spikes? There’s no telling how many gallons of hairspray the team has consumed by this point.”