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Sparks fly. Metal crunches. A wheel pops free and ricochets off the Lexan barrier. Competitors grimace—then grin. And in the aftermath of battle, the participants walk away with a deeper, real-world understanding of science. Of technology. Of engineering. Of math. Years later, some land in careers that began the moment “Punisher 9000” and “Nightmare on Pain Street” traded mechanized, radio-controlled blows.
Perhaps all forms of chaos and destruction aren’t created equal.
Ask a competitor about NRL, and the first thing you hear isn’t likely to be anything about applied math, in-game testing or machining parts. Instead, you’ll hear about heartening wins, crushing losses and dude, Decimator flew 10 feet when I hit him!! And yet, underneath it all, school-age team members are getting a real-world technical education. Many, in the process, are being introduced to career options they may never have considered otherwise.
Educators love NRL
Like a well-made robot gladiator, everything is precisely engineered for the desired effect. Despite the classroom-unfriendly melee of battle, educators love NRL for igniting sparks beyond the ones that fly in the arena: sparks of curiosity that propel competitors into computer-aided design to craft their robots… sparks of insight as competitors realize those boring math classes have real practical application… and sparks of realization as team members start computing coefficients of drag and centers of gravity—on their own—all in the name of maximum carnage when the bell sounds.
Some of NRL’s most prolific competitors now serve manufacturers in scientific and technical roles. This, too, is by design. In fact, NRL’s founding organization, the National Tooling and Machining Association, had precisely this in mind. You see, far from withering on the vine, U.S. manufacturing is hiring. But there are two challenges: one is finding people with the increasingly rare technical skills. The second is overcoming popular myths to reveal the reality—that manufacturing is high-tech, exciting, financially rewarding and—surprise!—growing.