Two Pender County students enter robotics competition with help of UNCW program

Gladys Padilla | Contributing Writer

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Two Pender High School students from UNC Wilmington’s Mentors Initiating Community Action, Support, and Advocacy program, or MI CASA, are eligible to attend a robotics competition, 1st Inspire Robotics. Both mentees, Leonel Mendez and Miguel Ortiz-Cruz, are very excited to attend the first robotics competition in their county.

1st Inspire Robotics is a worldwide event that teaches young, curious students to work together in order to accomplish tasks within a six week period.

During those six weeks, the students have to design a robot. They have to build it, program it, test it and possibly fix any errors.

“Although it’s hard, it has been a great experience and I know it will continue to be,” says Leonel Mendez who is already feeling the pressure as the competition date gets closer and closer.

Although no prior experience is needed to participate, this is Pender County’s first robotics competition, so they lack a vast amount of training needed to succeed.

Another team, from New Hanover County, has taken an important role: to mentor, assist and support Pender County if they come across beginners’ mistakes.

In addition, Jared Pinkston, the team’s mentor, has made a tremendous impact on the team.

“If it wasn’t for Mr. Pinkston, Pender County would not have a robotics team,” says Mendez.

Pinkston has attended every practice and meetings. In addition, he gives praise which motivates both Mendez and Ortiz-Cruz.

Both of the students have expressed an interest in engineering and science.

One mentor, Rigo Santiago stated, “Miguel has always been interested in math and science,” and went on to add “I believe he plans on majoring in engineering when he gets into college.”

The mentors have encouraged both students to do something that they love. They feel the importance of knowing one’s potential and passion before going off to college, and they motivate students to join extracurricular activities that deal with their various fields of interest.

MI CASA is a two year mentoring program at UNCW intended to aim at revolutionizing and providing access to higher education to young Hispanic and Latino high school students.

During these two years, the mentors and mentees slowly cultivate a strong bond allowing mutual growth.

Another mentor, Nick Torres, acknowledges the fact that being a mentor has allowed him to grow as an individual admitting, “my mentoring has shown me the advantages of having someone to help and has helped me be a better person overall.”

In addition to mentoring, MI CASA has provided important tools and resources for the mentees that include tutoring, college preparation seminars, different enriching activities, but above all the motivation needed to succeed.

“All of the members of MI CASA give me and everyone else in the program the most important thing of all: they believe in us. There is nothing else I can ask for,” Mendez said when reflecting on how MI CASA has prepared him for this competition.   

Both Mendez and Ortiz-Cruz find themselves prepared and very excited to participate in the first robotics competition of Pender County, 1st Inspire Robotics, this coming Feb. 20.