DEKALB CO., Ala. (WHNT) -- A group of three DeKalb County students are heading to the VEX Robotics World Champion Finals in California next month.
"In three two one," Daniel Smith says.
His fingers furiously work what looks like a controller you'd use for a video game.
What he's controlling looks like a professional made it, but the little robot that can drive itself was designed and built by Smith and fellow students Collin Kittle and Abigail Romero.
It's part of the robotics program at the DeKalb County Technology Center. Instructor Gary Hulslander says the program is in its first year, but the students have taken it to a level he hadn't expected. "We are amazed with the competitions, have driven the students to excel in the program," Hulslander says.
The program is part of the Northeast Alabama Community College's dual-enrollment courses, so it's free for the students.
They've competed in other competitions and won several awards including the title of state champions, but the world champion finals are an entirely new ballgame. "They'll be between 400 and 500 teams there," Hulslander says.
He says each competition is a learning experience and motivation for the students. "They'll come back and actually tear the robot down, and do a redesign, rebuild on it."
He says a win at the world finals is the goal, but at the end of the day, the students are going home with a set of skills they'll never lose.
DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Hugh Taylor says this program is teaching the kids a skill set they can use when they graduate. "We're a step ahead of everybody trying to move toward that initiative, trying to get into the career pathways," Taylor says.
He says in the county there's a need for the skills the students are learning in the program. "Being able to prepare them for local industry is huge," Taylor says.
The center is also working to create a program that would give the students an opportunity to apply for paid internships with local companies, to apply their newly learned skills. "We all know the better educated our workforce is, the more opportunities we're going to have," DeKalb County Schools Assistant Career Tech Director Jonathan Phillips says, "More companies are going to come in and want to take advantage of that, and it's going to help us all."
That initiative is something center leaders are working to implement in the different programs the center offers as well.
The world finals will be held in California at the end of April.
The students are working to raise the funds to get them there. If you are interested in helping to sponsor the students, call the school at (256) 638-4421.