Ask Carter Haber about his goals for the future, and the 17-year-old Aledo High School junior won't hesitate with his answer.
"I want to become a robotics engineer and invent something the world has never seen before," he said, adding that he plans on starting his own company.
Carter is dreaming, as well someone with his potential should. After all, he's already done more as a teenager than most people three times his age.
Carter is one of only 50 students among more than 40,000 from around the world to be a finalist in the FIRST Tech Challenge, putting him on the program's Dean's List. On April 22, 10 students were awarded the top honor in a program that will include an audience of thousands in St. Louis.
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FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology (hence the name "Dean's List"). Based in Manchester, N.H., the 501 (c) (3) non-profit charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills.
FTC is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head-to-head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams of students, coaches, mentors and volunteers. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design and other real-world accomplishments.
"To be one of the 50 finalists out of thousands of members worldwide is amazing," said his mother, Tricia Carter Haber. "That beats the odds of playing in the NFL.
"It's not as important what I think. I'm his mom and he will always make me proud. However, to know what his teachers, peers and community leaders think is what I'm the most impressed with. That tells me he is confident enough to be himself whether we're around or not."
And when Carter, who was named one of the Metroplex's Youths to Watch a couple years ago, sets his mind to do "a little bit more," he gets it done. Case in point, his work on a Christmas project for the Samaritan House five years ago.
"For my Bar Mitzvah project I raised enough money to buy 42 kids Christmas gifts, which originally had only a $100 budget, but I set my sights higher and made it $200," he said. "I chose to do this because it was something out of the box.
"Then, the following year I spoke about my project in front of 300 of their supporters. Basically saying 'If I, a 12-year-old, can do this for my community and make such a big impact what can you do to help your community?' It raised a lot of money to help more families move from homeless to Samaritan House apartments."
Tricia said she can remember having wrapped and labeled hundreds of gifts and that Samaritan House was about to leave Fort Worth to come pick them up when Carter made a call.
"I heard him call the counselor and ask if these gifts were from him, what would their parents give them?” she recalled. “The counselor explained these kids don't expect gifts from their parents because of their financial hardships.
"Carter asked for them to give him an extra two hours before picking up the gifts. He hung up and turned to us and asked to help him relabel all the gifts so the parents could place their name as the giver."
But robotics is Carter's favorite passion, and it's where he wants to leave his mark in the world. He first fell in love with robotics in fifth grade.
"I became interested when I started building with Lego Mind Storms at the Harmony Science Academy in Fort Worth," he said, citing the excitement of "the ability to make things that no one has thought of before."
Carter, in fact, helped start the Aledo ISD engineering program. He mentors the junior high robotics team, and he helped expand the FIRST Robotics Team at Aledo High.
Solar cars, underwater submarines - it seems there's nothing Carter won't tackle. His AHS computer science teacher and robotics coach, Julie Reynolds, recalls Carter attending prestigious ID Tech Camps at SMU and St. Edwards, and spending the next two summers winning robot wars, mastering multiple programming systems and becoming C++ certified, all before he even had a learner’s permit.
"Next, he attended the ID Robotics Engineering Camp at MIT. Instead of downloading the schematics and blueprints from the Internet as other campers did, Carter and his partner designed their own robot," Reynolds said. "Carter wrote more than 1,000 lines of code and an additional 50 lines for his final robotic challenge. Their robot could adapt to work with other team’s robots, detect walls, directions and could recognize the specific objects it encountered.
"When Carter came home from the camp, he asked his mother how to add robotics courses to our high school’s curriculum. Before long, Carter had an appointment to see the superintendent. He prepared a power point highlighting the benefits of robotics and engineering courses at the high school level. His presentation had lots of statistics that he had researched about the number of students entering engineering fields after high school and the scholarships available in the field of robotics."
Carter was told that creating new courses takes time and the full engineering track would not be available to students until after he graduated. They didn't count on Carter persistence and ingenuity.
"Carter’s response was that he would be helping other kids have the opportunities they need to succeed," Reynolds said. "Our school district partnered with Bell Helicopter to start a new program here at our high school. The Bell employee who spearheaded this program viewed Carter’s presentation and contacted him to get his input. This began a 'mentor' type relationship between Carter and Bell that has grown and spread to our whole robotics team. Our FTC team was invited to Bell’s facility to see how robotics are used in the aeronautical industry. One student can make such a huge difference."
While Robotics appears to be Carter's future, it's far from the only thing he does well. Among other accomplishments:
▪ He also takes pride in being part of the first Aledo Tractor Team to advance to state competition.
▪ He's a member of the FFA Radio Team.
▪ He's involved in FFA livestock production (in fact, he was in Houston competing at FFA Livestock showings when the rest of his robotics team was honored at a recent school board meeting).
▪ He has helped with the Special Needs Field Day since seventh grade.
▪ He helps with the Miracle League in Arlington.
"I also consider my 1972 pickup an activity all it's own since I'm always working on it," Carter said with a grin.
Carter said the biggest thrill he gets from robotics is, "Getting to put my thoughts into actions. I like to take my ideas and make them a reality."
And the biggest challenge?
"The initial design is the most difficult part of a new project. Once the initial design is created then we can start the engineering," he said.
And once he starts, great things follow it seems. Just ask his friends.
"They think it's pretty cool and I'm honored I was chosen to represent our school in worldwide competition," he said.
Carter's stepfather, Jeff Clifton, writes computer code and manufactures his own original designs, setting an example how to run a business and not give up on one's ideas. However, Tricia said robotics is all Carter's idea.
"Sometimes I secretly Google his terminology to connect the dots of what he is talking about," she admits.
Reynolds said along with being successful himself, Carter is also an inspiration to classmates.
"He is positive and self-motivated. He finds time for the activities he likes and maintains his grades," she said. "He also is able to use ideas that other students come up with and recognizes their efforts for the team."
And, yes, Reynolds is among many who believe Carter will be a success in the professional field of robotics and perhaps even make a change in the world.
"The robotics field is growing so quickly, I have no idea where it will lead by the time Carter graduates from college. I do not doubt, however, that he will be in the middle of it," she said.
And while he works with ideas and projects that seem most complicated to the typical person, Carter ultimately has one simple thought concerning all his work.
"I hope one day one of my inventions will help somebody," he said.