Robotics Scholarship Paves the Way for Martinsville Senior

Kellene Wotring recently won a FIRST Robotics scholarship. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

December 23, 2020

A female Martinsville High School senior wins a scholarship in a male-dominated career field.

MARTINSVILLE – “I was little and I loved animals and for some reason my imagination thought I was going to be a veterinarian,” said Kellene Wotring, a senior at Martinsville High School.

Her interests started shifting during sixth grade, when she learned about and participated in the school division’s robotics clubs. Wotring also went to STEM-based summer camps provided by Virginia Tech, which fueled her excitement.

“Going through all that, I realized that this was actually something that I really wanted to do,” Wotring said. “And it wasn’t just something I was doing as a hobby.”

When she entered high school, Wotring joined the MADAWGS Robotics Club.

As she competed in local to worldwide competitions, the student discovered that she not only had a passion for robotics, but also a talent. She also realized that other aspects of robotics – like science and math concepts – interested her.

“I always thought rocks were cool and that science was always cool,” Wotring said. “And even though math was challenging, I found a way to make it fun.”

As she moved through high school, Wotring studied all of her curiosities and considered viable career paths based off of those interests.

“And that’s really what just kind of, through and through, like, thread it all together and weaved it all together,” Wotring said.

Lessons from robots

The kind of robots the MADWAGS produce aren’t the type that compete on Jeopardy. However, they do enter into competitions – and oftentimes win.

Thus far this year, COVID-19 squashed competitive hopes, as teams can’t travel and gather for tournaments – but competing isn’t the reason Wotring joined the team.

Aside from the competition aspect, Wotring learned several helpful skills – not only for her college major, but ultimately her career.

“Teamwork and things that will help me now going into my engineering field. There’s a lot of hands-on aspects and using power tools. And through that, through MADAWGS, I’ve learned to use all of those power tools and I’ve learned dimensions,” Wotring said. “We had a lot of team members [who knew] how to do CAD and I never got to sit down with them and do that. But it’s opened me to the programs that we use and it’s just opened a lot of doors.”

Martinsville City Public Schools STEM and career coordinator Elizabeth Fulcher also spoke positively about the division’s robotics programs.

“[Students] gain confidence to be able to speak in public, to be able to share ideas and communicate, to be able to collaborate with others, to mentor,” Fulcher said. “Mentoring is a huge piece of it that the kids learn as they get older. Like, the middle school kids, they mentor the elementary kids. The high schoolers, they mentor the middle school kids. So that kind of is grown throughout.”

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A fortuitous opportunity

During Wotring’s senior year, the student started applying to colleges and for scholarships. Throughout the years in FIRST Robotics, Wotring heard about friends applying for a robotics scholarship. She recently submitted an application.

“Kellene has such a passion for education in general and her passion really shines through with robotics. I feel like she really found her place. Because of that and because of her passion, she was able to express that into the application process,” Fulcher said. “She applied that week, like the week-of, and found out the same week that she received it. So obviously they were able to see her passion shine through, with her words. That just says so much about Kellene and what she stands for.”

While Wotring said she felt rather confident about her scholarship winning chances, it still surprised her when the call came – especially since it came so quickly.

“My admissions counselor had sent me a vague email. It was like, ‘Call me.’ I was like, ‘What does he want me to call him about?’ And so I called him and he was like, ‘Well, you’re the first one who’s gotten it. They got your application, they reviewed it. And they called me and said that you were the first one,’” Kellene said. “And I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s kind of cool.’”

The scholarship awards Wotring with $1,000 a year, up to $4,000 for four years of college.

Expressing congratulations

Fulcher, along with two MCPS leaders, congratulated Wotring on her accomplishment.

“Martinsville City Schools has been an advocate for robotics and STEM for many years,” Fulcher said. “These programs have encouraged students to break boundaries and reach for goals that they never thought they could. Kellene is a prime example of how students can excel in these programs. We are incredibly proud of her accomplishments and can’t wait to see where her engineering journey will take her. I know she will do amazing things in this next chapter of her life.”

MCPS assistant superintendent of instruction Angilee Downing expressed her congratulations toward the Martinsville High School student.

 “We are so proud and excited for Kellene, and she is a great example of our students’ excellence,” Downing said.

MCPS superintendent Dr. Zeb Talley also expressed excitement over Wotring’s success.

“The Martinsville City Public family is very proud of Kellene,” Talley said. “She is very deserving of this honor. Kellene is destined for a wonderful future.”

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What the Future Holds in Robotics

 Wotring plans to attend Sweet Briar College in the fall, where she will major in Engineering.

Upon graduation, she hopes to work as a Disney Imagineer, designing rides and animatronics. Wotring also received a Presidential Scholarship, which covers half of her tuition for four years with early admission status

“That is like my dream job. That would be,” Wotring said. “I would love to do that.”

Even as she works toward becoming part of the approximately 28% of women working in a STEM field, according to the American Association of University Women,  Wotring doesn’t plan on forgetting her beginnings in robotics in Martinsville.

“Oh my goodness. I’ve gotten a family from it. I’ve gotten hands on experience. I have gotten windows of opportunity. I have used what I’ve learned in things that I have made. And I have obviously gotten a scholarship from it,” Worting said. “It has made me decide on my career of engineering and has made me see that even though it’s an engineering field, it’s not just building things – it can be helping people.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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