York Exponential empowering the super hero generation

The York-based tech company is giving a generation of kids growing up on superhero movies the tools to mold their world in ways still unimagined.

Story paid for by: York Exponential
Written by: Tim Stonesifer
John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, explains how empowering the "superhero generation" will allow today's kids to become tomorrow's leaders. (Video by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

One morning not long ago a school administrator in York looked on as eight teens crowded around a tablet, engrossed in what they were watching, oblivious to the world around them. She shook her head. 

Anne Clark wasn’t angry, though. She was amazed. 

That tablet was part of a York Exponential robotics presentation in which young people are introduced to the basics of how to program a robot. It’s part of a push to revolutionize American manufacturing and to make York the center of future that’s already upon us. 

It’s the dream of the man who stood that day next to a robot arm suddenly brought to life by the rapt young students he’d taught — York Exponential CEO John McElligott.  

“Every community needs a visionary,” says Clark, Lincoln Charter School’s director of community outreach. “And his vision, well, that’s one of the things I like about John.” 

The York Exponential Headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue in York is more than a workshop. The open-door policy means curious community members, local leaders and intrigued children can venture inside to take a tour, touch a robot and see how easy programming really can be. (Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

A generation waiting to amaze 

Seventy-plus years ago, York had a manufacturing plan, one that required a whole community for it to succeed. On the eve of war, young people, too, helped prepare for an unknown future, propelling the York Plan into use across the country. 

Today, The York Plan 2.0, led by York Exponential and inspired by the The York Plan of the 1940s, looks to harness that same youthful energy and promise, giving a generation of kids growing up on superhero movies the tools to mold their world in ways still unimagined. 

The first step is grasping robotics’ great power. Next comes an understanding of how to handle such potential — great responsibility. 

From there, it’s as simple as making the world a better place. 

“The learning curve for kids today is just incredibly fast, and that’s really exciting,” McElligott says. “I think there’s a whole generation just waiting to amaze us.” 

Molly Mock guides the York Exponential robot into place during a recent visit to the company's headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue in York. Programming the robot is so easy that a child can do it. (Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

Equity and opportunity  

If you give a kindergartener a phone, he’ll probably soon be playing a game. 

Today’s kids don’t always learn in traditional ways, something Lincoln Charter School embraced years ago by bringing technology into the curriculum. 

“Technology is the great equity tool,” Clark says. “For us, it’s about giving kids in the city that might not start with as much what they need to compete.” 

The learning curve for kids today is just incredibly fast, and that’s really exciting. I think there’s a whole generation just waiting to amaze us.

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John McElligott CEO of York Exponential

With York Exponential, it doesn’t take a Ph.D., and your background doesn’t matter. All that matters is the drive to create, to make an impact. 

“We’re about people coming together from all over and solving problems,” McElligott says. “It’s creating a path to shared success in York.” 

And the shared benefits will stretch beyond municipal borders, bringing jobs, progress and opportunity. 

That’s revitalization rebooted, primed and ready to spread. 

(Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)
(Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)
(Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)
John McElligott often refers to today's school-age kids as the "superhero generation." Unlike many adults, they don't question the fact that someday they might be building a real-life Iron Man. To a child, they can already see the possibilities. (Photos by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

‘It’s already here’  

Later this year, four students from Red Lion Area School District will make the 30-minute trek to York, the first trip of its kind. 

There, they will complete an internship at York Exponential’s headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue, the beginning of a partnership district officials see as a move toward the future of learning.  

That’s because today’s students don’t want to sit and do worksheets anymore. They’ve connected with the world too early to be satisfied with abstractions.  

“These kids, they want to be a part of something — something big,” says Scott Deisley, Red Lion’s superintendent. “They’re ready to do real work in the real world, and that’s what York Exponential is about.” 

The company provides both a path for area students into the city to learn and a way to glimpse a technologically driven future that once was receding but that no longer has to elude York County. 

“Things are moving a lot more quickly than we realize,” Deisley says. “What you think is not coming until tomorrow, it’s already here.” 

Richard Craighhead, left, and Harry Mock learn how to program a robot at York Exponential. The excitement and discovery of robots is as wonderous as the first man walking on the moon, John McElligott says. “We need to reconnect to a spirit of discovery.” (Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

‘A spirit of discovery’ 

Somewhere, a little girl lies under a hospital bed’s white sheets, battling cancer with everything she has. That little girl will win one day — and she’ll be in her first period math class this morning, too. 

With the help of a robot “double,” students can attend school even when they’re physically unable to be there. That’s robotics improving someone’s life, McElligott says. 

He calls it the tip of the iceberg. 

Once, we were explorers, he says. We waded into uncharted waters, and we dreamed about the moon and beyond. That promise is not gone — not in York. 

“My challenge to young people today is to regain that sense of adventure,” McElligott says. “We need to reconnect to a spirit of discovery.” 

Because with the technology York Exponential is bringing to the table, impossible is no longer applicable. A new future is within our grasp, he says. 

“Go dream it so.” 

Emily Mock, center, reaches to move the arm of a robot at York Exponential during a recent visit. Engaging children in robotics is just one step in bringing the community together for the York Plan 2.0. (Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

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