McLurkin, Robots Impress GIST Crowd

Robotics expert and Google engineer James McLurkin and a swarm of robots impressed the crowd at Pitt-Johnstown's Global Impact Speakers & Talks (GIST) series event, March 19, at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center.

Members of the Robotic Doges national champion robotics team from Somerset and Cambria counties, Pitt-Johnstown students, faculty, staff, and the public attended the free event.

Mr. McLurkin is a senior engineer at Google, a Rice University professor, and an award-winning researcher who received the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2003. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. McLurkin developed "swarm" microrobots, which are based on the principles of nature and carry out cooperative, real-world tasks. His microrobots and the concept he developed were featured in an episode of the PBS show Nova.

Mr. McLurkin unleashed a swarm of several robots that carried out tasks during his demonstration. He even overcame the slight setback of a dead battery in his operating device.

Prior to taking the stage, Mr. McLurkin met with several engineering students and members of the campus chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

The opening speaker was G. Henry Cook, CEO and Chairman of Somerset Trust Company. Mr. Cook has continued a five-generation family legacy of leadership with Somerset Trust. The company has undertaken numerous community initiatives and, in 2015, made a $1 million unrestricted gift to Pitt-Johnstown. Mr. Cook’s son, George Cook, co‐founder and CEO of Honeycomb Credit, a Pittsburgh‐based technology company also spoke. They discussed the evolution of banking into the digital age from varying perspectives.

The program continued to spark the conversation of digital infrastructure as a means to closing the rural/urban divide

Pitt-Johnstown President Dr. Jem Spectar, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post on February 20, 2019, titled “Want to close America’s rural-urban divide? Digital infrastructure is the key,” emphasized the need for public and private investment in K-16 education to build a new digital economy future for rural America.


The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was founded in 1927 and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and by Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization.” The distinctive combination of Pitt-Johnstown’s people, programs, and place results in exceptional performance in preparing students for career and professional success. Pitt-Johnstown is the regional leader, educating for success in the Real World.