Robotics team heads to state contest

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Dyqwun Jones replaces a part of the robot Thursday at the Opportunities Industrialization Center on East Virginia Street.


Staff Writer

Friday, April 6, 2018

As most area high school students are relaxing on spring break this week, a group of North Edgecombe High School students are hard at work at the Rocky Mount OIC as they hope to rise to robotic fame this weekend at a state-level competition.

The Armored Eagles, a robotics team composed of JROTC cadets from North Edgecombe High School, has already faced stiff competition in Greenville and Winston-Salem. After a fourth place regional victory, the team has won a spot at the state First Power Up Robotics competition this weekend at Campbell University. 

“During this triumphant break into the robotics world, students from Edgecombe County have the opportunity to meet with other like-minded students from North Carolina. FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition in Science & Technology) competitions grant students adult-like experiences as gracious professionals by working with people and businesses in technology applications,” said Reuben Blackwell, president of the OIC, which is sponsoring the team and is actively involved in the effort.

The formation of the Armored Eagles robotics team came about as a collaborative effort among several organizations in the Twin Counties. Lorenza Wilkins, founder and CEO of Compass Youth Centers, introduced OIC to the FIRST Robotics Competition. 

When Charles Washington, OIC’s director of education services, learned about the possibility of developing a student-led robotics team, he turned to a group of young professionals for help. The BridgeBuilders Foundation, which meets weekly at the OIC to mentor young people, joined the initiative, which began less than three months ago.

BridgeBuilders’ lead mentor, Maj. Melvin Davis, the JROTC instructor at North Edgecombe High School, introduced the concept to his cadets and some of those students became the first class of FIRST competitors in the Twin Counties.

“When I was first asked to join the robotics team, I said ‘no’ because I was not really interested,” said Cadet DyQwun Jones, 18, team captain of the Armored Eagles. “Now I am planning to go to Fayetteville State University and study engineering. This experience has done a lot for my character and my development as a leader. It has made me a better person.”

However, the team still needed technical advisers to bring the idea to fruition.

“We needed someone to assist the students in actually building the robot. We turned to Harold Lynch, an Advanced Manufacturing class instructor with Edgecombe Community College,” Washington said.

Daud Cole, innovations manager for OIC, also serves as project coordinator for the Armored Eagles. He explained how the robotics competition works.

“Each year, students are instructed to build task-specific robots that will perform in a designated indoor field. The game this year will include a self-directed and computer-operated mobile activity, which will take place without an official driver, along with gathering and depositing boxes in a designated area. Our students will be judged on their solutions to the game, the originality of their solutions and how well the robot appeals to the audience,” Cole said.

Cadet Saquan Harrison, 17, is the lead “driver” of the robot. Harrison said he has parlayed years of video game playing into a useful skill as he operates the robot.

“I have been into robotics ever since I was in eighth grade but never had a team to join until now,” Harrison said. “This way, if I do something wrong, I have someone there to help me.”

Cadet Jada Stansbury, 16, is one of two girls on the 10-person team. She serves on the robotic pit crew. She said the experience has helped her view math and science in a new light.

“This experience has helped introduce me to real world math and science,” Stansbury said. “I feel that most of the stuff we learn in class is not stuff we will ever use. But this involves logic and stuff we really need.”

If the team earns one of the top eight spots in the state competition, it will advance to the international level competition later this month.