Connor Mitchell is 18 years old and in his senior year at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM). While Connor was born in Charleston, he has lived in North Carolina most of his life. His interests include biology, mechanical engineering, and computer science, and he is especially interested in how these fields intersect. His hobbies include engineering and “making”. Connor fondly remembers years of participating in the robotics club at Magellan Charter School. As a high school student he is a member of the Forge Initiative and gives back to the community by acting as a mentor to Middle School students at Magellan.
Connor credits his robotics club experiences through FIRST Robotics, beginning in his 4th grade year, for sparking his passion for robotics and automation and shaping his pathway in life. This school based club was led by two volunteer mentors, Dr. Al Childers and Shane Trent, who Connor regards in high esteem. He credits these mentors with encouraging him to stay curious, asking why & how things work, never settling on good enough. He feels that this mindset of seeking ways to improve everything is a relevant skill for society today.Connor attended Leesville Road High School in Raleigh for grades 9-10, where he started his own computer science club. His vision was to grow the club to be interdisciplinary and inspire students to develop interests in computer science and engineering. In his Junior year, Connor was accepted into NCSSM. His decision to apply was driven by his desire to have access to more advanced courses, especially in computer science. While this move brought him away from Leesville Road HS, he is hopeful that the club he started will continue on for future students.
While Connor has been involved in STEM clubs and activities for many years, it was not until his junior year that a casual conversation led him to enroll in a Science and Engineering Fair. While playing pool with a friend, Prabuddha Ghosh Dastidar, they were chatting about 3D printing. Connor had been considering the implications of further adopting non-cartesian motion systems in 3D printing, and Prabuddha shared his past research experiences. They realized that their thinking might come together to solve a real problem in fabricating artery stents. Prabuddha had prior experience in Science and Engineering fairs and encouraged Connor to compete as a team to share the results of their work.
Connor was unsure of what to expect at the Regional Science and Engineering Fair. He engaged with three judges, 1 mechanical engineer and 2 environmental. He found value in the engagement with industry professionals and feels that he gained insights from engaging with various perspectives from different fields of engineering. He noted that often engineers in different industries ask questions that can strengthen the judging process. Overall, he felt the judging process supported his understanding of how to build a stronger research project.
In addition to what he learned from the competition, Connor feels that he gained a great deal of knowledge about biology in the development of the project. He is hoping to get an earlier start on his project for this senior year and to apply all of the biology and engineering knowledge gained from last year’s work and competitions.
With a prototype model for their regional fair, Connor and Prabuddha were promoted to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) based on their research. Understanding the importance of prototyping in the engineering design process, the team took advantage of the time between their regional fair and ISEF to further develop their design.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ISEF was a virtual competition in 2021. Connor was disappointed in the weeks leading up to the fair that he would not get to attend ISEF in person, but was pleasantly surprised at how much he enjoyed the virtual experience. He describes the experience as follows:
“... the Society [for Science] and Regeneron did an amazing job. One of the things that was truly amazing was the virtual world with avatars. We could talk to all of these different people and I appreciated that there were no real “time” constraints as we could be online around the clock as we were available. One particular experience that stood out was driving around virtual “boats” talking to people who were in Thailand.”
For the ISEF awards ceremony Connor and Prabuddha were able to watch together via the YouTube livestream. The team won the following awards at ISEF:
Biomedical Engineering - Second Award of $2,000 ENBM001T — ARTHETA-0: An Innovative, Affordable Approach to the Onsite, Rapid 3D Printing of Artery Stents, Parameterized to Fit Individual Patients’ Needs
Second Physical Science Award of $1,000 ENBM001T — ARTHETA-0: An Innovative, Affordable Approach to the Onsite, Rapid 3D Printing of Artery Stents, Parameterized to Fit Individual Patients’ Needs
Overall Connor described ISEF as an “absolutely amazing experience”. His favorite part was the variety of projects and seeing all of the different organizations who are involved in science fair.
This year Connor is at NCSSM, focusing the majority of his attention on math, physics, and computer science courses. The school offers a wide assortment of elective physics courses, including quantum mechanics which captures his interests, along with a machine learning course.
Connor hopes to pursue a double major in mechanical engineering and computer science in his undergraduate studies, followed by graduate school focusing on robotics. He hopes to one day work in robotics and engineering, affecting positive change on people’s lives.
When we asked Connor to provide one piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering, he said,
“Go out and do it, whatever you are interested in. Don’t let people tell you that you are too young. If you are interested in building rockets, you can go out and do it and learn a ton. If you are interested in computer science there are tons of ways to start learning it. Don’t hesitate, explore your passion. If you really want to do something you can accomplish it but you have to go out and work on it.”