Teen robotics prodigies compete for awards, state championship at MTSU

Feb 22, 2023 at 05:33 pm by WGNS News

(Left) Team member for the Pure Imagination team from Granada, Miss., watches as their robot, “Grandpa George,” picks up cones. (Right) A team member for the Tennesine Titans of Maryville, Tenn., watches as their robot, “Titus,” maneuvers around. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Straight-A high school student Addy Henninger looked toward studying physics in college until she discovered robotics about two years ago after her family moved to Tennessee from Chicago, Illinois.

A senior at Central Magnet School, one of the top schools in the state and nation, Henninger is president of the Robotics Club “after coming in with zero technical experience and minimal leadership experience.”


Henninger was one of more than 100 teenagers on nearly 30 teams showing their skills while competing in the recent TNFIRST First Tech Challenge Tennessee State Championship in robotics at Middle Tennessee State University’s Alumni Memorial Gym.

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.

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.

Teams wear matching T-shirts, outfits, some wear hats, safety helmets and more at the high-energy event.

With assists from Lightning, MTSU’s mascot, College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten welcomed the teams and TVA Senior Consultant Tracy Hightower complimented the teens “on their months of work and activity from September to now and building amazing robots.”

Van Patten urged the competitors “to think about why you’re here — to have a good time, recognize that engineers get paid well (in their careers) with this same team-based problem-solving, that a pathway exists for you to engineering and pay attention to your mathematics.” He also mentioned considering MTSU’s Engineering Technology’s Mechatronics Engineering as a college choice.

“Without sounding too philosophical, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the past represented in the AMG where basketball games and championships were played by MTSU and simultaneously hosting robotic championships with our future engineers, scientists and leaders,” said Engineering Technology Chair Ken Currie.

“It was a fantastic collaboration between the ET department at MTSU with TN FIRST Technical Challenge volunteers and donor supporters like TVA, Schneider Electric, TN Robotics and others,” he added. “I could see a lot of excitement among the team members and their coaches as they vied to be named the best in the State. The ET department is honored to play a part in hosting this competition.”

MTSU Engineering Technology awarded $2,000 scholarships to Bruno Borger of Hillsboro High School and Rachel Oppmann of Central Magnet for the 2024-25 academic year.

High achiever - Henninger, 18, who has been accepted at MIT, carries a 4.0 GPA. She said Central’s Robotics Club has 580 hours of outreach and has reached 9,000 people outside the high school. She helped organized the Middle Tennessee STEM Initiative and helped organize the STEM Fair, attracting 300 families to MTSU’s Science Building in January.

“We do a lot of fundraising,” she said, which includes $16,000 for a special needs classroom in the community.

Henninger fell for robotics because “I wanted hands-on experience. Engineering was the application for the STEM skills I’ve learned.”

Central received the judges’ Connect Award, one of many honors TNFIRST FTC organizers give at the event. Qualifying for the Worlds in Houston were Ohm Raiders from The Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Inspire Award winner and Lynx Robotics from Lausanne Collegiate School as the Captain of the Winning Alliance.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

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