The nonprofit organization, established through the Collin County 4-H program, offers hands-on robotics opportunities for students ranging from second to 12th grade. The team name, Mercenary Robotics, or M.E.R.C.S., comes from the organization’s focus areas: mathematics, engineering, robotics and community service.
The team, which began at McKinney High School, was later transitioned into a community team not tied to a specific school. This allows for students attending various school districts in the area as well as students attending private schools and home-schooled students to participate in the organization, President and Head Coach Charlie Goodman said.
“It's truly making robotics available to anybody, no matter what school you go to, what your economic situation is,” Goodman said. “[We] provide a robotics program for everyone.”
Team members coordinate to build robots in alignment with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics competitions. Younger students in second through 6th grades begin with creating robots made using Legos that address real-world problems, team member Alex Schafer said.
Older students build task-oriented robots that are made to compete in sports-style competitions, he said. The team finished third out of about 40 teams at a district competition earlier this year and ranked 34th out of over 200 teams across the state in the 2023 competition season.
“We're a very new team, a very young team. I think we had one senior, three juniors, and the rest were underclassmen, a lot of eighth-graders,” Goodman said. “We're a very young team, and to finish third out of 40 was a really good accomplishment.”
The organization also recently won the FIRST Impact award, which is the FIRST organization’s most prestigious award recognizing teams’ excellence and impact in both the competition and their community, according to the organization’s website.
After establishing the nonprofit community team in 2017, members began working out of a garage and later used a rented space at a Habitat for Humanity Collin County warehouse, Goodman said. The organization has already outgrown its east McKinney office space after only a year there, according to organization leaders.
“The growth has been so quick and so much that we haven't been able to scale up to accommodate that growth,” Schafer said. “But there's no signs of slowing down; we just got to catch up.”
The organization grew from 10 students in 2022 to over 100 students in 2023, in addition to gaining five new mentors for a total of 16, according to a presentation by Mercenary Robotics team members.
“We take people in; we give them all the STEM skills and leadership opportunities they need; and they take that with them as they grow,” team member Gargi Garg said.
Funding for robots
Student members of the organization are involved in the process to find donors and sponsors to fund robot builds. The organizations’ sponsors include local companies such as Raytheon, Emerson Process Management, Camozzi Pneumatics and Habitat for Humanity Collin County, according to its website.
Funding sources for the organization in 2022-23 included:
- Student fees: 9.5%
- Grants: 14.5%
- Corporate sponsors: 30%
- Private donations: 46%
901 N. McDonald St., Ste. 503, McKinney