In the program’s second year, teams bring home wins and see the potential for the future — thanks in part to the generosity of tech entrepreneur and Ravenscroft parent Robert Couture, who shares their vision.
Based in the Innovation Lab of the Keim Center for Innovation and Research, Ravenscroft’s varsity robotics program is in its second year of creation and competition with the FIRST Tech Challenge, a series of tournaments that pits teams against one another to conceive of, design, build, program and operate robots.
It may be just the sophomore year for the group, but expectations are high after the teams’ outstanding performances at recent tournaments. And thanks to a generous gift from Robert Couture, father of Lower School Ravens Lucas ’35 and Daniela ’33, the program is well-positioned to continue to grow and improve.
Teammates Tyler Artinger ’25, Yash Agarwal ’24, Zach Peverall ’25 and Paulie Brooks ’25 work on a robot in the Keim Center’s Innovation Lab.
Rehan Khan ’25 looks on as Daniel Enochs ’23 assembles a component for a robot.
“The marriage between hardware and software”
Couture has a wealth of knowledge on the subject of applied technology. At 4th Vector Technologies, the Raleigh-based company he founded in 2014, he designs, develops and integrates machine-vision systems for industrial manufacturing — a process Couture likens to that of a camera snapping pictures of a product to identify that it’s been put together, labeled and sorted properly.
In late 2022, he connected with Director of Strategic Philanthropy Ben Rein, saying he wanted to support the school’s robotics teams. He has since made a donation of both cash and parts, which will make a significant impact on students’ ability to build and improve the robots they design.
Techno Tiger member Paulie Brooks ’25 makes team buttons in preparation for a competition.
Team Automated Admiralty prepares flyers to showcase the evolution of their robot’s ability to perform certain tasks.
“The advantage of the robotics program is it gives students an opportunity to see the marriage between hardware and software,” Couture said, “giving them the skills of being able to apply programming to something mechanical, designing something mechanical and understanding a level of fundamentals — and working in that team environment to discover what they’re good at and what they click with before they get into university.”
“Parents and supporters like Robert and 4th Vector have a vision for where the world is going and where education is going,” Rein said. “And they have a willingness to get behind it and support it to help us put our students where they need to be in the future.”
Members of Automated Admiralty (at left) test an implement that is used to pick up cones, ultimately concluding it is too heavy for the robot to manipulate; and (at right) test the robot in autonomous mode, using a different tool to successfully stack the cones.
An ethos of “gracious professionalism”
As members of varsity robotics teams, Upper School students gain all kinds of real-world skills, “everything STEM from 3-D designing to manufacturing and building,” Jacob Margraf ’23 said. “We prototype, think outside the box and deliver great results!”
They also learn firsthand about the importance of collaboration in the art of innovation.
“The team structure is important,” Maya Agrawal ’24 said. “You want to make sure that members can help cover each other’s weak points. Additionally, you want to make sure that you work with people who you get along with, because if your team is filled with very smart people, but none of them get along, you’ll end up either getting nothing accomplished or stepping on each other’s toes.”
“I have improved my ability to collaborate and cooperate,” Zach Peverall ’25 added. “Cooperation is a foundation of nearly anything in the modern world.”
Coach Anna Lawrence, working in the Innovation Lab, gathers the nautical-themed items that members of Automated Admiralty plan to wear during competitions.
The program is very much student-led, with their coaches — robotics teachers and co-directors of the Innovation Lab Anna Lawrence (who also teaches computer science) and James McFarland (who also teaches engineering) — providing guidance and structure. Underlying that structure is the FIRST framework, which prioritizes “gracious professionalism,” defined as “a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.”
“Positive collaboration is at the core of its program, and teams are encouraged not only to support their teammates’ problem-solving efforts but to reach outward to build up other teams as well,” Lawrence said.
Ravenscroft’s teams have experienced the benefits of this emphasis in ways that made a big difference in their season.
“Early in the season, our robot had lots of issues, and our team was getting very frustrated because it didn’t work when it should have,” Jacob recalled. “Another FTC team, Swift, reached out and offered some help if we would like to practice with them one day. While working with them, I realized how helpful other teams are and how enthusiastic they are to help! This ‘a-ha’ moment — that we aren’t alone in this community — was huge. Our team learned so much through engagement with other teams, giving us the opportunity to take first place at our second competition.”
Rehan Khan ’25, Tyler Artinger ’25 and Harry Ursitti ’25 make adjustments to their robot as they prepare for a North Carolina FTC robotics competition.
“Paying it forward”
As part of their processes, teams document their work, making note of how their tests go and what steps they take to correct a problem. It’s a requirement that very much feeds into competitions — and to real-world applications of the skills they’re learning.
“Teams keep an engineering notebook that keeps track of the progress of the robot and what the team does at each meeting. Additionally, for competitions, teams need to have an engineering portfolio, which displays things like the team’s strategy, design plan, outreach programs, autonomous code and more. These skills are important to have, as you can use them in jobs later on in life,” Maya pointed out.
Teams create displays to tell tournament attendees about their work, and along the way they learn about graphic and website design as they share the successes and learning experiences of their season.
Daniel Enochs ’23, Anton Barbone ’23, Ania Zhang ’25 and Simon Toback ’23, who are all on team Ghost, prepare themselves for the excitement of the robotics competition.
The Techno Tigers — Tyler Artinger ’25, Zach Peverall ’25, Paulie Brooks ’25, Rowan Thomas ’23, Maya Agrawal ’24 and Eve Caudill ’25 — get their equipment organized before the competition begins.
There’s also a community outreach element in the program’s structure.
“The other side of FTC robotics is the service and outreach portion,” Nathan Emonson ’24 said. “It’s an opportunity to spread STEM into our local community by completing service projects like the robotics tech drive,” in which members hosted a computer donation drive in mid-December, collecting items such as computers, monitors, tablets and cell phones for the Kramden Institute, a nonprofit organization that refurbishes old technology and provides it to members of the community who need such items.
That aspect of the program has resonated with Couture as well. He said that, growing up in Canada, he benefited from the way many local system integrators made significant donations to his vocational high school and helped its programs flourish. Ever since he founded his company, he’s maintained a steady interest in supporting robotics clubs in schools — as he put it, “paying it forward.”
The Techno Tigers share information about members and their robot’s design at their display table.
“Control your destiny”
While teamwork, collaboration and service are emphasized, the competition does get fierce. McFarland said he knows that students are playing to win.
“In a robotics competition, ‘control your own destiny’ means that the success or failure of a team’s performance comes down to the actions and decisions of the team members,” he explained. “Ultimately, the teams that are able to control their own destiny in a robotics competition are those that are able to work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and stay focused on their goals.”
Arnav Gupta ’24, Nathan Emonson ’24, Jacob Margraf ’23, Yash Agarwal ’24, Chaz Davidian ’23 and Matthew Madewell ’26, some sporting nautical caps, celebrate Automated Admiralty’s first-place finish on Jan. 28.
Coach James McFarland shows off the trophies and medal won by Ravenscroft teams at the Jan. 28 qualifying tournament in Greenville.
By that measure, teams in the program have taken control in this year’s season of competition. At the Jan. 28 qualifier in Greenville, all three Ravenscroft teams brought home wins: Automated Admiralty took first place, and Techno Tigers and Ghost received Innovate and Motivate awards, respectively.
For the students, it was a powerful reminder that their hard work does pay off — and it positions them for more success in seasons yet to come.
“We had been working constantly trying to fix the problems with the robot we discovered after the first competition for the week and were hopeful for our first match. It was such a great feeling when we ended our first match with not only a personal high score, but one of the highest scores we had been able to witness,” Zach said of team Techno Tiger’s success. “Knowing that we as a team were able to achieve such a score was so exciting, because it let us know that all of our work was successful.
“Another great highlight throughout the season was watching how the two other teams constructed their robots. It was really cool to compare their approaches with ours and be able to use that to come up with potential ideas for next year’s season.”
At top, teammates Nathan Emonson ’24 and Jacob Margraf ’23 work on a robot in the Keim Center’s Innovation Lab.
Students collaborate in the Innovation Lab.
Ravenscroft has benefited from the generosity of families and supporters who see STEM and innovation as critical to students’ growth and success.
Lower School Innovation Hub “Creates an Amazing Learning Experience” (Feb. 22, 2022)
Warner Family Gift Funds Hybrid Learning, Future Innovation
(Nov. 11, 2020)
Gifts Fund Technology and Classroom Innovation (Fall 2019)
Where Creativity Meets Technology and Resources: The Keim Center for Innovation and Research Opens Up the STEM+ Classroom to Create New Possibilities (Spring 2019)
To get involved, reach out to Ben Rein in the advancement office to talk about ways to support this and other exciting programs of the school.