Florida Catholic | By Linda Reeves | June 17, 2021
FORT LAUDERDALE | Megan Cowart, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, was competing in a robotics match on campus when visitors unexpectedly showed up toting a bouquet of colorful balloons, a banner and a $20,000 Florida Power & Light scholarship award with her name on it.
“This is the first time a student at our school has won this award, and it is a first for the Archdiocese of Miami,” said an excited Erin Williams, science teacher at St. Thomas and coordinator of its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, program. “This is a huge deal for Megan and for our program at St. Thomas Aquinas. We are definitely becoming one of the powerhouse robotics programs in the state of Florida.”
Megan and her teammates were called from the cafeteria, where the school’s robotics competition was taking place May 1, 2021, to the courtyard where FPL representatives waited. Maureen Wilt, senior education program manager in external affairs for FPL, greeted her and presented her with the scholarship.
“It is a pleasure supporting education on behalf of Florida Power & Light,” Wilt told the Florida Catholic. “We have one award every year. This is our sixth year.”
The scholarship is through the company’s charitable arm. NextEra Energy Foundation is dedicated to assisting seniors who plan to pursue college degrees in engineering or information management or take up studies in other STEM-related disciplines.
As part of the award, Megan will receive $5,000 annually for the next four years to help her with college tuition at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she will study mechanical engineering beginning this fall. She is required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.
“It was crazy,” said Megan, 18, who graduated May 15, 2021, during ceremonies at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens with her fellow classmates. “I was so surprised.”
A total of 30 students applied for the scholarship. To be eligible, applicants must be enrolled in public, private and charter schools located in one of the 28 school districts in the FPL service areas throughout the state. Applicants also must be participating in a “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” or FIRST program aimed at developing science, engineering and technology skills. FIRST programs are powerful not only for helping youngsters develop various abilities for jobs, but also skills for life including self-confidence, leadership and communications.
FIRST TECH CHALLENGE
St. Thomas Aquinas offers two FIRST programs. FIRST Tech Challenge gives students a hands-on-experience in the art of designing, building and programming a robot. FIRST Robotics Competition encourages students to focus on one area including design, programming or team branding. Both programs involve all aspects of STEM and encourage teams to compete with their robots to make things a little more interesting and stimulating.
Most importantly, awardees of the NextEra Energy Foundation scholarship are chosen based on their academic, leadership and school and community service record. Applicants are also required to submit a short article on their overall experiences as a FIRST student.
“I wrote my essay from the heart,” said Megan. “The program teaches so many values. It has not only affected the way I do robotics but other aspects of my life. You learn ideas that you take with you through life.”
Megan has participated in FIRST programs at St. Thomas since she was a freshman. She started as a FIRST participant in sixth grade when she was enrolled at Parkway Middle School of the Arts, a public school in Lauderhill. “I love building stuff,” she said.
According to her parents, when Megan was a child, she enjoyed playing with building blocks, puzzles and Lego construction toys. “She loved the marble track that we got her,” said Megan’s mother, Karen, about the building-block racetrack designed to roll marbles around a winding track. “When she was a kid, she loved that thing.”
PEPPA THE ROBOT
This year, Megan is the co-captain of the robotics team, 14431, Pyrites. During the May 1 competition that matched the six teams of the school, Megan held a hand control and guided her team’s robot, Peppa, named after a little pig portrayed in an animated television series. She drove Peppa back and forth and around a field throwing rings and herding balls. “We hope to go to the state playoffs,” she said.
Megan’s mother, a homemaker, and father, Greg, who works in technology, were on hand for the award ceremony. “We are happy for her and so proud of her,’ said Greg.
The Cowarts are residents of Plantation and call St. Gregory Parish their spiritual home. Megan, an only child, serves as a volunteer at The Friendship Circle, a program dedicated to serving children with special needs. Besides designing, building and racing robots, Megan enjoys ballet, tap and hip-hop dancing. She is a nationally recognized competitor.
What does Megan want to do with her life and her God-given talents? This young woman has it all planned.
“I want to be a Disney imagineer,” she said. Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development is the research and development arm of the Walt Disney Company responsible for creation, design and construction of Disney theme parks and attractions worldwide.
Megan and her family are frequent visitors to Disney in Orlando. “I want to work on creating the rides. Disney World has always been important to me. I want to be able to create magic for kids.”
Image: LINDA REEVES|FC Megan Cowart shows off her school team’s robot during a competition May 1, 2021 at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. Megan, a senior, was presented a scholarship during the competition by representatives of Florida Power & Light. She won the $ 20,000 award from the philanthropic arm of FPL to continue her studies in science and engineering at Cornell University in New York.