By Kyle Barr
Even at 17, Rocky Point High School senior Kyle Markland is a renaissance man.
Markland is a scientist and a musician, an engineer and an artist. This past year, he competed in several regional and national science fairs with his project on improving GPS technologies in autonomous cars. On May, 6 he played double bass for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall.
“The balance of his technical skills and his creativity — how he’s able to excel in both areas at such a high level is tremendous,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.
In 2013 Markland took a trip to the First LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first stops he made was to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, where he saw pictures and models of the wondrous inventions of one of the world’s most famous engineers and painters. It inspired something within himself.
“It really took me back how intelligent he was — a lot of his engineering stuff, but also how he was an artist, with all his paintings like the Mona Lisa — he stands out in so many different areas,” Markland said. “It’s something that I want to do for myself — stand out and do the best I can in a lot of different arenas.”
Just like how da Vinci was an inventor and engineer, Markland too has a knack for understanding the way things work, and expressed his engineering skills through LEGO Mindstorms.
Mindstorms is a branch of LEGO where technic blocks are used to program robots that can perform any number of functions. The senior took an interest in robotics when he was in 5th grade, saving up birthday money for several years before buying his first Mindstorms kit.
In 2014 he created the YouTube channel Builderdude35, where he regularly posts tutorials and videos of his LEGO creations. Markland has over 14,000 subscribers, and said he regularly receives questions and requests for help from people all over the world.
“The tutorials were a way of sharing my own experience that I learned through [school] or at home,” Markland said.
In April he published the book “Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots,” in which he highlights six of his unique robotics projects — all of which he built and coded. One of his flagship creations is a quirky interactive robot named “Grunt” that will eat different colored LEGO blocks and react differently to each one. The robot will respond to when waved at, and even stick out a small LEGO claw to shake your hand.
Markland’s mother, Lori, recalled her son marveling at the way things worked even at a young age.
“His passion was cars, building, robotics, machinery,” she said. “When we brought him to a cotton candy machine, he was looking at all the moving parts underneath it.”
The senior does all this with an incredibly busy schedule. He spends most of his time travelling, whether for scientific research, music or robotics, and still finds the time for schoolwork. To Markland, music is his most calming influence. It helps to settle his mind. He said the music is also not only just for him.
“I want to feel like I’m using my time for something bigger than myself,” Markland said. “I want to feel accomplished. The channel is a way to teach people, the book is a way to teach people; my music is something that makes people happy.”
Markland will graduate salutatorian of his class. He was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and California Institute of Technology, and chose MIT not just because he sees it as the most prestigious, but because the admissions officer personally called to congratulate him.
“[It’s] crazy, because they don’t really do that,” Markland said.
Next week Markland will be travelling to participate at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will face off against 1,800 students from over 75 different countries.
“From the get-go Kyle has been very self-motivated,” Markland’s science teacher and mentor at Nancy Hunter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who matches his ability define a problem, figure out how he’s going to go about solving a problem, and does it all.”
While the science fair sounds daunting, the student has been methodical in his preparation. In times of stress, he said he thinks of something his cousin, a soldier in the U.S Marines, told him: “He told me, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than one who plans his work and works his plan.’”