There is a lot of buzz coming from Robeson Community College lately.
Some of the buzz is coming from the electronics on board, a robot, and some is from the excitement of the robot designers and builders.
When Blake Carlile describes himself as a chief software engineer of his organization with six years’ of programming experience and begins to itemize the other positions in the organization as chief electrical engineer, chief mechanical engineer, build team officer, chief of finance, and chief of marketing officer, you might think he is describing a high-tech firm in the Research Triangle Park.
In fact, Carlile is a third-year associate of science student in Robeson Early College High School’s five-year program that offers students the opportunity to earn an associate degree at the same time they earn their high school diploma. Early college students hold the other positions as well.
Carlile’s organization is Team 6729 RobCoBots and the products they developed are “Richard” and “Perry,” two competition style robots.
Keenan Locklear, an Early College High School science instructor, learned of the concept of robotics competitions at a professional meeting and began writing grants to fund the venture at RCC. Science instructor John Allen joined the effort as a mentor.
Teams pay $4,000 to participate in competitions and receive a kit of parts at a kickoff event for the season. Teams have about six weeks to build their robots prior to competition and may spend a maximum of $2,000 to enhance their robot. The spending limits keep teams across the state and nation on an equal footing.
“Somebody can’t just buy a championship because they are in Raleigh or Charlotte,” Locklear said.
Carlile notes that the team, which just organized in January, received their kit late and had only three weeks to design and build before entering their first competition in Greensboro with their first robot, “Richard.” The team left Greensboro with a first place win among 36 other teams from across the state, and a fire for robotics and competitions.
Kevin Perez, a fourth-year associate of science major and robotics team captain, chimes in that the team took a respectable ninth place finish among 33 teams at their second competition in Raleigh. These two finishes qualified the team to compete at the state championship, where they missed qualifying for the world championship by a mere five points.
Locklear told a crowd assembled for a demonstration in RCC’s BB&T Conference Room, “I think we can go all the way to the world championships because these students have the heart; they have the heart for it.”
The team attended a camp at the North Carolina School of Science and Math over the summer, where members built their second robot, “Perry,” named after cartoon character Perry the Platypus. Perry was the star of the show at the recent demonstration. The team, which Locklear noted is very diverse and includes 11 female students, is looking forward to the next kickoff event in January. Females are often underrepresented in STEM ventures. Locklear also emphasized the expense of the competitions and invites anyone who would be interested in supporting the effort to contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 910-827-9549.
Locklear points out that the return on investment of this program is immeasurable.
“Students are talking the language of engineers,” he said as he cited the increase in interest in STEM fields among participants. “They are learning management skills. You get employees that are higher and so much more advanced than your average high school graduate.”
Parents of students enrolled in Early College can be assured that their children are getting an education that will allow them to compete with students from across the state and nation; however, students do not have to be enrolled in Early College to receive many of the benefits. Students at any high school in the county can also take courses at RCC and earn college credit while simultaneously enrolled at their home high school.
For more information about the opportunities available through dual enrollment and the College and Career Promise program at RCC, contact recruiter Patricia Locklear by email at email@example.com or by phone at 910-272-3356.
Denis Watts is the spokesperson for Robeson Community College