Teen Tech Whizzes Compete for Awards, Robotics State Championship at MTSU

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High school teams compete on campus in a robotic battle.
High school teams compete on campus in a robotic battle.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The Middle Tennessee State University Alumni Memorial Gym area, home to the Blue Raiders volleyball team, annually becomes a buzz of activity for the TNFIRST First Tech Challenge Tennessee State Championship event on a Saturday as spring approaches.

Teams come from across Tennessee and nearby states to compete for awards and an opportunity to advance to the World Championships in Houston, Texas, in April. The event is sponsored by MTSU Engineering Technology and Schneider Electric.

Many of the 24 teams and more than 100 teenagers competing March 2, wore colorful T-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets. Some adult mentors get into the spirit of things, wearing hats and other items. Parents and family members fill both sides of the gym’s upper seating area, cheering on the competitors.

FIRST Tech Challenge teams (up to 15 participants in grades 7 to 12) are challenged to design, build, program and operate robots to compete in head-to-head matches in an alliance format. Results and awards are posted on the TNFIRST website.

Guided by adult coaches and mentors, students develop STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills and practice engineering principles, realizing the value of hard work, innovation and teamwork.

The Brentwood, Tennessee, sister combination of Jessica and Melissa Wang on their team called TechNova won their earlier matches and captured the final championship round.

Experienced from other robotics competitions and mentored by their father, Terry Wang, Jessica Wang, 17, a Brentwood High School senior, said “it is all a good experience and I enjoy collaborating with my sister.”

Melissa Wang, 14, a Brentwood High freshman, said preparation includes “doing a lot of testing and making sure there are no errors.”

While they qualified for the World Championship, event director Nick Pasquerilla of Murfreesboro said he had received an email from Terry Wang saying they would not be going to the World Championship, allowing another team the opportunity to go.

The Tennessine Titans of Maryville, Tennessee, also earned a berth to the World Championships by winning the Inspire Award.

MTSU scholarship recipients

High school juniors John Wood, a member of the 4-H Gear Grinders team from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Lacey Coats, a member of the Tennessine Titans from Maryville, Tennessee, received $2,000 scholarships to attend MTSU by Currie.

It marks the second year Engineering Technology has awarded the scholarships to promising students, hoping the offer encourages them to become future Blue Raiders.

Volunteer effort

Currie and Pasquerilla praised the effort by about 25 MTSU students, plus faculty and staff, and 60 TNFIRST volunteers to make the event run smoothly.

“Helping out on the first day of spring break is a testament to our students wanting to earn extra credit,” Currie said of the Engineering Technology and Mechatronics Engineering students.

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