When 17-year-old Mollie Conner talks about robotics, everything changes. Even over the phone, it seems as if her shoulders relax, she perks up, and the excitement can be heard in the tone of her voice.
She was a member of the Halifax County High School robotics team since the 2019 season until her senior year was abruptly cut short thanks to the global coronavirus pandemic.
“This year I was going to be on the drive team and get to drive the robot during competition,” said Conner.
Last year she was part of the winning team that made it all the way to the FIRST World Competition in Detroit, Michigan. Although the season didn’t end the way the Cometbots had hoped, members of the team called it a successful run after landing 18th out of 127 teams in the district.
Regardless of the outcome, it was an experience none of the team members are sure to forget, even for Conner who spent the competition mostly in the stands scanning the crowds for the Cometbot’s next allies.
The teams have to choose allies to compete with so she had to look out for the best of the best, and she had individuals to choose from from all over the world. More than 600 thousand students from over 100 countries compete in FIRST robotics competitions.
“It was pretty crazy to visit such as big city and to complete in a competition on much bigger scale,” she added.
Even though robotics can get stressful at times, Conner said its also “so exciting,” and is a “whole world” to become immersed in.
Not only do the teams create a robot, drive it and compete, but they also create buttons, have to create a “chairman’s essay,” which the history of the team, learn hardware and software, and also she said there’s the whole business side of it.
“It’s a whole lot more than driving a robot,” said Conner.
She joined robotics on a whim after a friend invited her to a recruiting event, and now she’s glad she did.
“Joining robotics and working with (robotics instructor Adam) Reeves showed me I wanted to work hands on. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in an office,” said Conner.
So when the welding course at the Southern Virginia Higher Ed Center became one of the few options left her senior year, she took it.
For Conner, welding is satisfying. It’s a chance for her to continue working with her hands and see her completed work.
She enjoyed it so much she got squeezed into welding II her second semester, even though its usually a two-semester course.
In Welding II, participants get a chance to take an internship, and Conner has been able to spend time once every three weeks interning with Comfort Systems USA.
“Everyone has been really nice, and it’s good work,” said Conner.
Since working with Comfort Systems, she has had time to practice her welding on plumbing pipe.
“It’s nice to a job that’s hands on,” she reiterated.
Even with schools’ closed since March, Conner was able to continue her internship giving her the experience she needs while working with people who were “really nice.”
During her time at HCHS, she also spent time running on the cross-country team and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Being on the cross-country team, she said, was a lot of hard work, but “once you finished, you feel accomplished.”
When she first heard that the school year was coming to an abrupt end, she admits she was excited at first for no more school.
But, then she remembered all of the senior activities she’d miss out on.
“We’re the first seniors to have to go through this,” said Conner.
It hasn’t been easy, but she’s grateful to get to graduate and pass that milestone.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a job with Comfort Systems and keep going forward with that,” she concluded.
Mollie is the daughter of Jeff and Tammy Conner of Halifax.