Within the walls of New Haven’s Career Regional Magnet High School, there’s a $10,000 robot that turns students into engineers.

So says physics teacher Theresa Matthews, an adviser to the high school’s team of students, faculty and volunteer professional engineers, which in six weeks designed, built and tested their own working robot and will enter it in the first round of a robotics competition in Hartford this weekend.

Thanks to two $5,000 grants from Yale and New Haven’s United Illuminating Co. — and hours of volunteer time donated by two UI engineers — New Haven’s team will head to the Meadows Music Theater on Friday to watch its robot go head to head in a series of contests against those built by students at other New England high schools.

“The best part about working with the team to build the robot was the day two of the kids told me they wanted to be engineers,” said Matthews, who worked as an engineer for Pratt and Whitney before she started teaching three years ago. “When the kids go from complaining about how hard physics is to wanting to use it in their careers, you know a project is worthwhile.”

Founded by engineer Dean Kamen, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, sponsors the annual exercise in order to teach students that competitive science and engineering can be as rewarding and intense as athletics.

“Kamen wanted to make engineering and using your mind as important and admirable as soccer or football,” said Claudia Merson, the public school partnership coordinator in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. “We thought a logical place to start promoting Mr. Kamen’s ideas was Career Regional High — because it’s the magnet for students pursuing careers in medicine, business and technology.”

Over 20 students from Career Regional High School built and financed the robot, which was designed by UI engineers John Buffa and Jim Crowe.

The robot will pick up balls, put them in a goal, cross a ramp and traverse the finish line.

Only five students will head to Hartford this weekend to control the robot, but Matthews said all of the students learned a great deal during the building and financing processes.

“I have students who were getting low Cs before FIRST who are getting high Bs now,” she said. “Obviously this is a positive thing for all my students.”

Matthews said she will use the robot in her classroom after the end of the competition to teach students who did not participate about circuits and electricity.

If the team wins in Hartford, it will advance to the national competition at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

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