CAPE ELIZABETH — Described as “tinkerers with a great sense of humor and a tiny streak of mischief,” Nathan Labrie and Caleb Weinstein-Zenner come to mind when Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeff Shedd thinks of outstanding seniors.
The duo, Shedd said, have been partners throughout high school.
What sets them apart, he added, is not their academic standing or community involvement, but their passion for robotics.
The two have twice competed in VEX Robotics Championships, placing 12th out of 104 in their division and 84th of 92.
Weinstein-Zenner said he got into robotics during his freshman year after one of his friends said it would be “perfect” for him. Labrie said he’s been interested in robotics since taking an introductory physics class in fourth grade. He’s been competing since eighth grade.
Each year-long robotics season begins with teams being assigned a course and tasks that their robot must complete. Teams compete in regional events throughout the year, leading up to World Championships, which take place mid-April.
A busy competition schedule means Labrie and Weinstein-Zenner spend most of their free time – when they’re not focusing on their five Advanced Placement classes – in the high school’s robotics lab. Typically that’s five or six afternoons a week, although one Saturday building session went from 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
But it isn’t always strictly business. The “streak of mischief” Shedd mentioned could be in reference to the time the two barricaded the door of their physics and biology teacher, Shawn Guerrette, with 11 cases of Diet Coke – Guerrette’s favorite soda.
They can also be found building catapults or crossbows in the lab or being pushed through the halls on skateboards by their robots.
“We’ve done some interesting stuff in here,” Labrie admitted.
CEHS’s lab, he said, is one of the biggest in the state. It’s uncommon for schools to have an entire room dedicated to robotics, Weinstein-Zenner added.
Cape’s is the result of a major renovation last year. The room is now equipped with gear for robotic-fanatics of all ages and is used for elementary through high school programming.
“We’re very fortunate in the fact that the school is very supportive of robotics and the community is too,” Weinstein-Zenner said.
Next fall, Weinstein-Zenner will attend Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts, for electrical engineering with the hopes of working somewhere like Tesla or Google. Labrie will attend Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, to study biomedical and mechanical engineering. He said he’s interested in working with artificial limbs and organs.
Before graduating with their class on June 10 at Fort Williams Park, they also have to finish their senior transition projects. Labrie is working on an aging study at Jackson Labs in Bar Harbor. Weinstein-Zenner is working with the middle and high school band directors on how to conduct an orchestra. He plays bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, both of which he’d like to continue playing in college.
Looking back on high school, Weinstein-Zenner said the one piece of advice he’d give a freshman version of himself would be to “stay dedicated.”
“I didn’t stay dedicated to my classes freshman year or sophomore year and that held me back a bit,” he said. “I had to fight through that and take summer pre-calculus and fight to have five (Advanced Placement) classes this year.”
Labrie said he would tell a younger version of himself to “enjoy it while it lasts.”
“There’s a lot of cool stuff in the high school that I’m going to miss,” he said.
Cape Elizabeth High School seniors Nate Labrie, left, and Caleb Weinstein-Zenner said they’d like to continue to compete in robotics competitions at the collegiate level.