The Pine Tree Regional First Robotics Competition

Nerd, in my  vocabulary, has always been a positive affirmation. Throughout most of my life, probably due to my love of reading and overall obsession with education, I self-identified as a nerd with pride. The timing was right: I was in my impressionable teens when Steve Jobs became a national celebrity.  Silicon Valley turned into Silicon Empire and suddenly, it seemed, the chant, “nerds prevail” had some truth to it.

So, when I volunteered to be a chaperone for the Dublin Robotics team’s second national qualifying competition in Lewiston, Maine, I imagined an epic battle of nerdiness: bow ties, geeky computer jokes, and lots of nervous coffee drinking while shouting random things like, “Check the lithium core for bilateral coercion due to the omega 9 effect  or else we will go into hyper-drive!!!!”  (Disclaimer: I know nothing about robotics as evidenced by my prior statement.) 

Unsurprisingly, my predictions were not entirely accurate.  Even with my well-developed history in nerdhood, I learned quickly that in the world of First Robotics ,talk means nothing in the face of  action.  It does not matter if you play Dungeons and Dragons or are on the varsity lacrosse team when your robot’s wheel falls off. It doesn’t matter if prom sounds like the social anathema of the year or you actively campaign for king or queen when you have to rewrite ten lines of code in two minutes.  Robot triage is not a judgmental field.

You see, the competition was not merely a safe haven for nerdiness, but also intellectualism, problem based learning, and diversity in all of its forms.    I looked around at the Dublin team’s array of students including record breaking rowers, dancers, poets, musicians, and singers. My own assumptions about what the competition would entail soon dissolved and in its place was a display of genuine, universal intensity.

We all use stereotypes to help place our own identities somewhere within a spectrum. I always assumed “nerd” was actively a welcome antagonist to “normal.” Yet, the competition proved to me that robotics and computer programming are no longer niches for subgroups. Instead, it is the  basic prerequisite to gain the fluency needed for the future.

—Nicole Sintetos( English and History)