HAMLET — The “nerd herd” graduated from RCC’s Saturday Academy on Thursday, at the end of a stiff competition designed to assess what they had learned about computer coding, 3-D modeling and the basics of electricity during the past seven months.
There were small certificates suitable for framing, handshakes from Richmond Community College President Dale McInnis and program coordinator Jeff Epps, and polite applause from parents as the 14 elementary to Richmond Early College students celebrated the capture of their first college credits.
“You learn a lot of stuff that you never thought you would,” said graduate Abbie Terry, a rising ninth-grader from Rockingham who also just earned her federal pilot’s license through a drone program co-sponsored by RCC and Richmond County Schools.
“Some people look up to you … and they think it’s really cool,” she said of being a girl in science — especially now that, at not quite 16, she has the skills to find a job flying drones.
The Saturday Academy class graduating Thursday comprised three girls and 11 boys from traditional and home schools. The students had attended classes combining science, technology, engineering and math one Saturday a month for the past school year, all of which led to the “hackathon” that ran Monday through Thursday of this week.
During the hackathon, competitors used linear thinking to solve chess problems, and spacial concepts and coding to build 3-D images. Each challenge was worth a number of points, with the total to shoot for being 60.
No student earned all 60 points, with the closest being Alexander Furs of Laurinburg, a rising eighth-grader who earned 59 points after coding a bowtie-like figure standing on end instead of horizontally, on its points.
“I find it fun,” Alexander said of the academy. “I like learning, (especially) coding and the chess.”
The students who attend Saturday Academy come from varying backgrounds, and they’re not all at the top of their classes in science, Epps said. By way off illustration, he revealed that one academy student had been labeled learning disabled because he could not visualize objects. After attending academy classes, the student has shed the label.
“There’s a correlation between here and the classroom,” when the skills learned during the academy help students decipher logical or other problems assigned at school, Epps said. And using the hackathon contest to test skills learned merges “both soft skills and technical skills to make (it) more engaging.”
What the students do have in common, said Epps and co-instructor Chad Osborne, whose day job is teaching at Ashley Chapel Educational Center, is that they’re all “slightly quirky.”
“They want to be in a place where there are others like them,” Epps said — and they do not rebuff the term “nerd.” They revel in the designation — and now they have certificates to prove it.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]