FAQ for Students & Parents

Just below, you will find a list of the frequent questions we get from new students and parents. You'll also, hopefully, find reasonable answers to them! If you don't find what you are looking for below then check the Team Handbook or shoot us an email to mentors@zebracorns.org.
Question: What are The Zebracorns? What is this all about?
Answer: The Zebracorns is a robotics team that is part of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) and comprised of passionate students from all over North Carolina and the surrounding Triangle region.

Question: Who is this for?
Answer: High school aged students. We do require that students be in at least the 8th grade and at least 13 years of age as this is a program meant for high school aged students and that does come with a required level of maturity for student participants. Students from outside NCSSM are welcome! We have a mix of NCSSM and community students from schools (and homeschools) all over the triangle that join us each year!

Question: When and where do we meet?
Answer: We meet somewhere between 2 and 5 times per week in the Mechatronics Lab, located in the Hunt Dormatory, at NCSSM in Durham, NC. We meet in the evenings typically and our normal pre-season meeting times are 5:30PM to 8:00PM on Mondays and Thursdays. We do have Saturday morning/afternoon meetings during our competition season though.

Question: Is there an application and does a student need prior experience?
Answer: We do not have an application process and we don't expect students to come in with prior experience. We will do everything we can to teach students what they need to know. We do ask that they come with a passion for learning and an inquisitive attitude though! We do ask that prospective students send us an email (mentors@zebracorns.org) to introduce themselves, and arrange a time to come into the lab.

Question: Is there a cutoff date for joining?
Answer: Yes, but also... no. We do not have a formal cutoff date for joining the team but our Competition Season begins in January and we have a really short time period to design the robot and prepare for our events so we have an informal cutoff in December (prior to the season starting). If this is a concern then send us an email (mentors@zebracorns.org).

Question: What advice do you have for students transitioning from other FRC teams?
Answer: We pride ourselves on being a melting pot of students from all over the state. We try to do everything we can to provide an amazing environment for our students to thrive, leveraging all of the resources and experience we have. Our aim isn't to just be a great FRC team but to provide an environment where our students can go above and beyond FRC, in fitting with the goals of NCSSM. Be patient and come into The Zebracorns with an open mind and an understanding that it has a culture all its own, that's likely to be very different from your old team.

Question: Do you have time requirements for student participation?
Answer: Yes! In our pre-season (roughly August through December), we meet twice a week and require students attend at least 1 meeting per week from the time they start coming to meetings. In our competition season, we change the requirement to be 8 hours per week, with the lab being open for about 20 hours each week. These hours are sometimes adjusted so refer to the Team Handbook and team emails for current details.

Question: This seems like a pretty big time commitment?
Answer: That's not actually a question but yeah, we get this a lot. It is a time commitment that is comparable to what most sports teams require of participants to practice. Engineering is also a discipline that requires practice and we want student participants to get a lot out of our team.

Question: What does this cost?
Answer: The costs are comparable to sports teams. We do require that participants going with us to events buy a uniform and help pay for travel costs. Most participants could expect costs between $500 and $1500 (it's a bit variable based on us attending a Championship event if we qualify). We try to subsidize as much of the cost as we can and we have ways of helping cover expenses for any participant where costs might be a barrier. We do not want money to be a reason for someone not to participate so please ask the mentors about financial assistance if it is needed.

Question: Will this help get my student into NCSSM?
Answer: No. Being on The Zebracorns is not something that will, by itself, help get students into NCSSM. The most we can do is give participants a fantastic experience and help them understand a little bit about NCSSM and its unique culture. What students are able to do with that experience is up to them.

Question: Are parents welcome?
Answer: Yes! At least for a meeting or two so we can answer questions and build awareness of the team. We do ask, if parents want to come out and participate as mentors, that they go through a background check process and become official volunteers for NCSSM.

Question: Do you need more mentors?
Answer: Always! Running an FRC team is a lot of work and we are always eager to pull in more adults and engage them with students. Reach out to us at mentors@zebracorns.org.

Question: What even is a mentor?
Answer: The word "coach" might be more accurate but they are the adults who bring knowledge, experience, wisdom, and passion to the team. They share their time. Most are just volunteers - though a select few are employed by NCSSM for a small stipend. They run the team logistics, act as liasons for the school, and help students get the most out of the program.

Question: This sounds awesome! Do you need anything? How can I help?
Answer: We could use more time - we're hoping one of our alumni builds us a time machine! We can always use more money - seriously, this is an expensive operation and we are always looking for more sponsors to partner with so send us an email (mentors@zebracorns.org). We sometimes get hungry during competition season meetings so we are always happy to work with parents (or sponsors!) on arranging food. We are also on the hunt for large (2000 square feet or more) practice spaces in the Durham area so if you know of a space that's open to high schoolers driving 150lb robots around it, let us know!

Question: How can I donate money to the team?
Answer: That is very generous of you! You can donate through this website https://www.ncssm.edu/donate/engineering-computer-science. Select "FIRST Robotics Team 900 (Zebracorns)" as the designation and it will go directly to us. You can also send us an email (mentors@zebracorns.org) if you would like to donate by check.
If you didn't find what you were looking for above then check the Team Handbook or shoot us an email to mentors@zebracorns.org.