As a 10-year-old, Michael Vawter often found himself in trouble for leaving on his bedroom light.

As a 10-year-old, Michael Vawter often found himself in trouble for leaving on his bedroom light.

So rather than having to flip the switch himself, the precocious home-schooled Westerville boy designed a Lego robot to do it for him.

Fourteen years later, Vawter is inspiring the next generation of children to use ingenuity, intellect and Lego blocks to solve problems.

"It's rewarding to see kids find a new hobby and at the same time, learn about technology at an early age," Vawter said.

He said those learners include children who have difficulty socializing and with traditional learning models, such as those on the autism spectrum.

Vawter was at the Hilliard Kidsfest April 4 at the Makoy Center teaching children to build robots from Lego blocks and officiating a Lego Robot Sumo Battle.

Vawter, 24, is a graduate student at Seton Hill University, near Pittsburgh, pursuing a master's degree in entrepreneurship.

He works with his mother, Gail, at the Robot Academy, a company they founded in 2007 to foster STEM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math – education in central Ohio.

With offices at 200 E. Campus View Blvd. in north Columbus, Robot Academy camps are held at various locations in central Ohio.

The camps are offered for two days or five days in June and July at locations in Dublin, Gahanna and Westerville.

Vawter earned an undergraduate degree in psychology is from Denison University. He is a two-time FIRST Lego League champion. The FIRST Lego League holds robotics-related games and competitions.

After exceeding the league's age limit, he said, he founded the Robot Academy as an outlet for his passion and a means to pass that interest on.

Children ages 6 to 12 could participate in the Lego Robot Sumo Battle at the Makoy Center.

In several rounds, the Lego robots were placed on wooden pallets.

All were activated at the same time and the wheeled robots bumped, turned and continued battering each other until one was left in the ring or time expired.

In most instances, children built the robots on-site and Vawter provided a programmed computer to activate arms and levers attached to the robots.

However, some children were past students of the Robot Academy and worked on projects in advance.

They used Lego bricks to fashion bumpers to protect the robots.

Among those who attended a Lego camp and built a robot in advance was Michelle Orians, 9, a third-grader at Avery Elementary School in Hilliard.

Michelle's robot, named MEC-BOT, partly an acronym for the initials of her first name and those of her two siblings, tied for first place in one round and was runner up for grand champion.

Michelle's brother, Edson, 7, a first-grader at Avery, also participated in the event.

"I like to learn how to make inventions and build my own things out of Legos," Edson said.

Assisting both of them and their brother, Callen, was their father, Kendall Orians, 36, himself a Lego enthusiast since childhood.

"I introduced them to Legos and then used them for educational opportunities, such as programming logic," Orians said.

Harley Woltz, 8, traveled from southeast Ohio to participate in the event.

Harley is a student at a parochial school near Wellston in Jackson County.

His mother, Rudina, said she looks far and wide for educational opportunities for Harley and is trying to meet the minimum number of 15 students required for the Robot Academy to visit her son's school and to find donations to cover the expense.

Legos aren't the only thing to which Harley applies his imagination.

"I like to make my own inventions out of big cardboard boxes," Harley said.

"We think he wants to be an engineer, so (the Robot Academy) is a good way for us to find out how much interest he has," his mother said.