They spend weekends putting their love of technology and engineering to work, building robots and programming them to operate independently.
Now, a community-based team of students in the FIRST robotics team - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - is raising money for a trip to St. Louis after earning a spot in the FIRST Championship.
A fundraiser to raise $10,000 to send the members of Team Duct Tape—made up of 12 local kids ages 13-18—to the championship competition will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Sweet Tomatoes, 14703 N. Dale Mabry Highway.
Proceeds from meals will go toward the team's trip, said Terri Willingham, who leads the team.
"It's a fun way to get kids involved in math, engineering and technology," she said. "We can celebrate math heroes as much as sports heroes."
Team Duct Tape is a grassroots effort that began four years ago for kids in the Odessa area, Willingham said. The team is required to build a robot with certain specifications and ensure that the robot can solve a challenge, such as making sure it can lift balls in a CD crate.
To do so, they work with engineers and mentors who teach them the basics of engineering, Willingham said. The team's members also document their work in an engineering notebook and on video, Willingham said, and do community outreach.
Qualifying tournaments are held throughout the year at local schools, and Team Duct Tape received runner up for the FIRST Tech Challenge's Inspire Award, a top honor.
Local students on Team Duct Tape attend schools in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and work on their robots on weekends.
In north Tampa, parent Jodie Luster and son Ethan, who is a member of Team Duct Tape, have enjoyed being a part of the team, and plan to head to St. Louis in April.
Luster said her son got involved because he enjoyed taking things apart. One day, she spotted an ad in a newspaper that said Team Duct Tape was looking for new members, and connected with Willingham.
"Being a part of the this team is similar to being on a sports team, except they are using different components, like math, science, engineering and technology," said Luster. "They build robots with their hands and minds."
Said Ethan: "I've learned many new things, like how to put pieces together and different types of programming. I've also become a better leader."
Those who want proceeds of their meals at Sweet Tomatoes on Thursday night to go to Team Duct Tape's trip must print the attached flier in order to benefit the team. Call Willingham at 813-728-2822 for more information, additional fliers or to donate to Team Duct Tape.