East Chapel Hill High’s robotics team Eastbots will be one of only 500 teams globally to compete at the FIRST Championship in Houston this week. The accomplishment comes with a steep price tag, though, as registration fees for these types of events range from $4,000 to $5,000—and that’s before you even account for all the expenses of building the robots, travel and everything else.
That’s why Durham-based software development company Eloquentix is partnering with Eastbots to help them make it to the competition. Eloquentix will match every donation made for the first $1,000. [You can donate to the Eastbots team here.]
Eloquentix’s CEO Radu Rosu said his software development company is not about projects, it’s about relationships. So it’s fitting that Eloquentix is investing in the future Triangle STEM leaders via Eastbots.
Rosu came to champion the high school robotics team because of his younger brother, Paul Rosu, a sophomore at East Chapel Hill High and a team member. Radu witnessed the way that Eastbots started diligently working to get in shape for competitions beginning last summer and the impact the team has made on Paul.
And older brother Radu knew exactly how his money would be used in funding the trip to the FIRST Championship, which takes place this Wednesday through Friday, April 20-23. [FIRST is an acronym of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.] Beyond the immediate expenses, though, it’s ultimately being used to influence the next generation of STEM leaders.
“Whenever I see an opportunity to give and to help something which I know precisely what’s going to happen with that capital, I’m all for it,” Rosu said.
Eastbots President Ana Pekec, an ECHHS senior, said the team is grateful for the sponsorship from Eloquentix. Because the team doesn’t receive funding from their school, Eloquentix’s sponsorship enables students to attend what Pekec calls an inspirational event for all of their members. While one of only 500 teams who get to attend worldwide, Eastbots is also one of only 10 teams permitted to compete from North Carolina.
“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Pekec said. “It’s more than just competing at the world level. It’s interacting with teams from all over, learning from teams at such a high level.”
Eastbots began at East Chapel Hill High in 2013 with only 10 students and one mentor and has now grown to around 40 students with seven mentors. Pekec says she has been personally inspired, transforming from someone who was unequivocally “not a STEM person” when she entered high school to now an incoming college freshman at New York’s Barnard College who intends to major in physics.
“As a mechanical member in my freshman and sophomore year, I went from never really using a hammer drill to building entire metal superstructures and mechanisms,” Pekec said.
Building robots—and the Triangle’s tech future
The scale of what Eastbots builds should not be diminished, according to Radu Rosu. These are not tiny robots, he said; they are often 150 pounds. Robotics is one of the rare places where you can still captivate the interest of young people, introducing them to technology and programming in a compelling way, Rosu said.
“This can be a first step into a really world-leading and robust robotics community in the Triangle,” Rosu said. “We should be encouraging that, and so that’s why Eloquentix is in this.”
Specifically, Pekec said Eastbots provides a welcoming environment that differs from so many other STEM spaces. The team is diverse—striving to have many women in leadership roles—and built with the understanding that anyone can come and learn on the team for free, no matter their knowledge background.
“Having that kind of community and seeing other people like you working in STEM and succeeding also is very inspirational,” Pekec said, “so that other new members can see that they can also do that.”
Motivating high school students through the power of robotics is ultimately a key driver for future innovation in the Triangle, fueling the future startups and unicorns that will bring the region economic success.
“These guys are 16 to 18 [years old],” Radu Rosu said. “That means they can be working for us in startups and coming up with great ideas and helping us grow as a community four years from now, or even earlier. That’s what we’re investing in here.”
Anyone who would like to donate to Eastbots as they compete at the FIRST Championship should do so at their website.