News Release – January 13, 2016

Duke Energy, Cherokee Central Schools, Cherokee County Schools, Clay County Schools, Graham County Schools, Jackson County Schools, Macon County Schools, and Swain County Schools, announced a partnership to help establish the SMART (Smoky Mountain Area Robotics Teams) elementary and middle school league with the support of a $9,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. These teams are proven to excite students about learning science, technology, engineering and math. Dean Kamen, creator of the Segway and stair climbing wheel chair, developed FIRST Lego League robotics and science teams as a way to sneak up on kids and get them to love science and math while having a wonderful time building and programming robots.

“Students who have struggled in math and science classes are suddenly programming robots to perform amazing tasks in a race against the clock. More importantly, they are having a great time and have no idea that they are developing a passion for learning science and math,” Dr. Chris Baldwin Superintendent of Macon County Schools explained, “The robotics competition requires students to work as a team, solve complicated problems, present their ideas to business leaders and constantly seek ways to improve their robot. Those are essential life skills that our leading employers tell us are critical for our students to have to be successful when they graduate.”

“Teams need students with a variety of knowledge and skills in order to be competitive in all areas. That is why students do not have to know anything about robotics or be strong in science. It is no different than most workplaces today…having a blend of talents and skills is important,” explained Angela Knight, Superintendent of Graham County Schools.
“Business involvement in this program is critical.” Sam Pattillo Superintendent of Swain County Schools explained, “Each team has a mentor with a technology background and a science or CTE teacher as the coach. This type of interaction will provide a rich experience for our students.”

“This program causes students to see useful ways to use classroom learning to solve real world problems. Many students find that student led problem solving ignites a passion for learning science and math. That is critical for their success because the National Science Foundation tells us that 80% of all jobs being created require knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.” Dr. Mike Murray Superintendent of Jackson County Schools added.
Lisa Leatherman, District Manager of Duke Energy, presented a check for $9,000 from Duke Energy to support robotics teams and development of a plan to broadly engage students from across the region in similar programs. “The skills that the students develop in this program are the same skills Duke Energy needs as we develop our future workforce,” said Leatherman.

“We are deeply grateful for the contribution from the Duke Energy Foundation.” Dr. Mark Leek, Superintendent of Clay County Schools explained, “We are actively seeking additional partnerships with industries from across the region. The insights from those collaborations are critical in preparing students from across this region with the knowledge and skills our major employers need.”

Dr. Scott Penland, Superintendent of Cherokee Central Schools, said, “We are excited to be hosting the SMART Regional Tournament on Saturday April 2, 2016 at Cherokee Central High School. What excites me is that this program attracts kids from all back grounds and demographics. FIRST Lego League Robotics Competition often attracts kids that have never had success with science and math in the classroom. It can play an important role in changing attitudes and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.”

“We believe that programs like this are critical to attract companies with high paying, skilled jobs to want to locate in this region.” Jeana Conley Superintendent of Cherokee County Schools concluded.
About The Duke Energy Foundation

Duke Energy Foundation makes charitable investments on behalf of Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the United States with 7.2 million customers in six states. Over the foundation’s long history in local communities, it has identified focus areas that maximize the foundation’s dollars and guide the foundation’s giving. The foundation makes grants supporting the environment, economic development, education and community vitality. In North Carolina, Duke Energy Foundation invests $16 million annually for community support and charitable contributions.

To learn more about Duke Energy Foundation, visit

For Additional Information:
Dr. Scott Penland, Cherokee Central Schools, (828) 554-5089
Jeana Conley, Cherokee County Schools, (828) 837-2722
Dr. Mark Leek, Clay County Schools, (828) 389-3437
Angela Knight, Graham County Schools, (828) 497-9820
Dr. Mike Murray, Jackson County Schools, (828) 586-2311
Dr. Chris Baldwin, Macon County Schools, (828) 524-3314
Sam Pattillo, Swain County Schools, (828) 488-3129
Lisa Leatherman, Duke Energy, (828) 421-4534