Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina General Assembly hosted new visitors Tuesday: two robots and the teams of high school students that built them.
Two Raleigh-area teams in the N.C. FIRST Robotics competition, a program that fosters K-12 students’ interest in science and technology, showed off their mechanical creations in the Legislative Building.
Richard Coutant, an engineer at Duke Energy and coach of one of the teams, said the program brings out talent in students that can pave the way for careers in science and technology.
“The really cool thing about this as opposed to sports is that any one of these guys and girls here can go pro,” Coutant said.
Megan McGrew, a senior at Apex High School and a member of Coutant’s team, said the 30-plus-hour weeks of building the robot are worth the effort.
“The hours that we put into this robot and seeing that come out onto the playing field was probably the best feeling I’ve ever felt,” McGrew said.
Designing the robot, which is outfitted with a large ball that shoots into a 3- by 10-foot goal, was the hardest part of the building process, she said.
McGrew had never considered an engineering career before joining the robotics team, but now she plans to pursue a career as an aerospace engineer. She said she plans to attend Wake Technical Community College for two years before transferring to North Carolina State University.
“I thought, ‘Oh, a robotics team might be fun. It would look good on a college application,’ and it turned out to be so much more than that,” she said. “It turned into a lifestyle for me.”
The nonprofit program has expanded since it was launched in New Hampshire more than two decades ago, growing from a handful of teams in the state to about 50. Coutant said it is costly to run, with a $20,000 to $30,000 annual budget funded by private donations and corporate sponsorships.
The program fosters as much fun as it does work, he said, sparking passion that makes students proud to call themselves science geeks.
“We’re all geeks here. We don’t deny that,” he said.