Nate White, 17, (left) a junior at Eastern Montgomery and Daniel Mullins, 16 from Radford attend the New River Community College Engineering Design presentation.

Liz Kirchner

In the auditorium of Radford High School, 175 students from across southwestern Virginia in Marvel Comics T-shirts, camouflage ball caps, Vans and glossy ponytails have arrived for TechCon 2018.

Welcoming them, Dr. Al Wicks, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech tells them he has a vision.

“This conference is the first of what will evolve into competition at the high school level,” he said. “I see a high school stadium filled with parents and families watching technology competitions—autonomous vehicles, academic challenges.”

For Dr. Wicks, director of the Applied and Mechatronics lab at Virginia Tech, good knowledge is applied knowledge. His lab creates…

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