Smoky Mountain Robotics Team makes an award-winning impact

The Smoky Mountain Robotics Team took first place at the recent event in Charlotte. Donated photo The Smoky Mountain Robotics Team took first place at the recent event in Charlotte. Donated photo

The Smoky Mountain Academic Robotics Team (SMART) brought home the Impact Award at the Mecklenburg District FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition event in Charlotte last month and will advance to the FIRST North Carolina District Championship. 

The Impact Award is the most prestigious award at FIRST, honoring the team that best embodies the mission of FIRST, representing a model for other teams to emulate. The award was created to highlight the goals of the FIRST Robotics Competition to encourage more youth to become science and technology leaders, transforming the culture to inspire greater respect and honor for science and technology.

FIRST is a global organization founded in 1989 that encourages students of all ages to explore technological and scientific concepts through various competitions, including FIRST Lego Leagues (FLL), FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). Each year, FIRST teams from across the country build robots and participate in game challenges at district competition events.

SMART was established as a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team in 2017 and their first season was in 2018. SMART has student members from Smoky Mountain High School and Jackson County Early College. The team was chosen for this award because of its commitment to advancing STEM in Western North Carolina through creating robotics summer camps for kids, helping to establish FIRST Lego Leagues (FLL) and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams in the mountain region, mentoring teams throughout WNC, participating in regional fairs and events and building community partnerships with local businesses, Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University.

To apply for the award, members of SMART prepared both video and written applications, then presented to, and were interviewed by FIRST judges.

“This is a milestone event in the life of a FIRST team and reflects sustained performance of the team over a period of years,” said Dr. Paul Yanik of Western Carolina University, former NCFIRST board member and regular FIRST Robotics Competition judge advisor.

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Smoky Mountain Academic Robotics Team lead mentors are Ty Dengler and Larissa Miller. The team is also mentored by WCU students and FIRST alumni Elvis Perez Galarza and Taleigh Verrault. The team also receives support from community members and Dr. Paul Yanik, Dr. Scott Huffman, and Dr. Yanjun Yan of Western Carolina University.

At the Asheville District FIRST Robotics Competition event held March 15-17 at UNC- Asheville, SMART advanced to the finals in the game competition, finishing in the second-place alliance. At that event, the team was honored with the Judges Award, which honors a team’s unique efforts, performance, or dynamics that merit recognition but does not fit into another award category.

The NC FIRST state Championship competition event will be held April 5-7 at East Carolina University. For more information about SMART and how to become a team member, mentor or sponsor, please visit or email the team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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