Nic, 14, designed Stemville, one of the most ambitious games we’ve seen. Stemville, a STEM-themed virtual world, invites students to pick a character and participate in games and activities to improve STEM skills. Even more impressively, Nic can program in over 8 languages and has his hands in every STEM-pot imaginable — from robotics, to development, and more.
Nic’s first passion is robotics. With help from the Hundred Black Men of Atlanta initiative, he became an avid robot builder and programmer. Nic says he literally sees the sky as his limit, piloting robots through land, sea, and now into space. He participates in the Zero Robotics competitions and believes that robots and the education associated with their development can be a powerful motivator for kids.
“I like the robots, but it is even cooler to think about the physics that my passion has forced me to learn. Robots aren’t just about space travel. It is about combining good building tips with aerodynamics. I love to build them, but it is so exciting to program and run each one and see what I can learn from each experience.”
Just as Nic loves to learn, he wants to use his passion and skills to inspire other students. First introduced to robotics by a friend, Nic hopes to keep “paying-it-forward” by teaching more and more kids robotics. For him, they helped combine his STEM interests with creative production and he hopes he can keep showing students the impact that robots can have in the world.
Four years ago, after he entered his first robotics competition with a friend, he and his mom decided to start their own robotics team, which he began captaining only three years ago – when he was just 11 years old! Their success started a network in their community, as they propelled their wins into coaching two other teams in their area. Nic, who is homeschooled, also started a robotics program within his homeschooling group to help the rest of the students stengthen their problem-solving skills. “We teach them the basics of building and programming and then they have to further develop their algorithmic skills and programming techniques. Robots are cool because once you get the building down, there is so much extra complexity to explore!”
Robotics also helped Nic propel his passion for STEM into game design. For one of his robotics competitions, the students were tasked to create something innovative that older adults could use to make their life easier. Using Greenfoot and a Kinekt, his team made an exercise video game that adults could use to prevent arthritis.
“Working on the Kinekt and with my mentor really inspired me. I realized that you can make anything you want if you can program well and that’s what made me want to be a game designer.”
Given the potential at his fingertips, Nic studied up and his mom taught him how to use scirra to begin designing his own games. He found that the algorithmic skills gained from his robotics came in handy. “I already was pretty good at coming up with algorithms and knew different kinds of programming from robotics. Then, whenever I had problems, i would go back to the other languages I know and would see how I would fix problems with those and bring them back into the game.”
It is these same do-it-yourself and go-getter attitudes that have helped Nic juggle so many activities. He never gets frustrated, rather, he uses one passions to inform the others. Most of all, Nic wants to help his community. He loves that STEM thinking has opened up so many ways he can give back: whether by designing games with a purpose or by mentoring other students in the skills that he has developed.
In fact, Nic has already begun propelling his STEM Challenge win into community development. With the laptop he wins, Nic plans to further develop his virtual world. “I plan to add new stories and more mini games within the virtual world. I want to get a full server online so different kids from all over can keeping learning from it and having fun while doing so.” He also began developing a curriculum to teach game development and programming to local students who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to the STEM pipeline.
Not only is Nic a master at building robots, designing games, and at mentoring other students, he is also an artist, selling his wares at local crafts fairs. In fact, he drew all of the art for his winning entry! He also enjoys playing soccer for Stockbridge United, volunteering at the Atlanta Zoo and camping with his family.
Given his full roster, one might wonder how he accomplishes so much. Nic explains that he loves his homeschooling schedule’s flexibility, “Even though I just finished middle school, I still get to pick a few of my classes, so I can take computer science and STEM classes. I can structure my whole day and as long as I get the work done, I’m allowed to get whatever else done. I tend to like to do schoolwork and homework in the middle of the day so I can code until I fall asleep.”
Nic knows that a STEM career is in his future, but describes it as an afterthought. When asked where he hopes to be when he grows up, Nic replied, “Well I would like to open a place to teach kids different computer languages, game development and robotics.” After a pause, he adds “I guess i see myself working with a big robotics agency and going to college for some type of tech-related career with computers and robots…oh and I’ll definitely still play soccer!”
Nic wouldn’t be so successful or so community-oriented if he didn’t have such a strong community supporting him. He acknowledges throughout our talk how helpful his mentors, robotics team, and his patient Mom Pita are with his multiple interests. Their help has helped Nic mature into a thoughtful future leader motivated to make a difference through technology…and with excellent time management skills. We applaud Nic on his win and wish him luck on future iterations of STEMville. Hopefully, some of his students might someday win their own game design competitions!