Phillip Barkhau spent three years with the M’Aiken Magic robotics program before he graduated from Aiken High School in 2006.

Six years later, he attended the an organizational meeting Tuesday for M’Aiken Magic –this time as the new coach.

“When I got the opportunity to do this, I jumped on it,” said Barkhau, a first-year history teacher at Aiken High.

“I’m reliving high school a bit right now. I would like to get my hands dirty and start building the robots myself, but the students will have to do that.”

M’Aiken Magic got started in 2002 and is based at Aiken High; however, it’s open to all county high schools.

The county program is a chapter in the international FIRST Robotics program.

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, and the programs sets up annual contests and rules.

Students compete in two categories with three teams participating. The “Little ‘Bots” participate in the fall, and one squad with the “Big ‘Bots” program get involved after the Christmas holidays.

Contests in both divisions feature robots that form alliances to battle other partner teams in pairings that change during round-robin tournaments. Barkhau has taken over the robotics team from Aiken High teacher Kelly Russell. She will remain with the program as a consultant.

M’Aiken Magic has been a big influence in Aiken County, said Barkhau, giving students without an interest in sports the opportunity to show off their talents in the areas of STEM, i.e., science, technology, engineering and math.

“Robotics is one of the best programs to get into if you want to get into engineering or another hands-on field,” said AHS senior Logan Murray.

“It gives you so much in areas like robotics, electrical and computer engineering, as well as programming and web or visual design.”

The opportunity to get into programming convinced Aiken High freshman Gretchen Caddell to show up for the meeting this week.

“I love to do programming and a little bit of hacking,” she said. “It sounds like fun and I’d like to get that experience.”

Longtime volunteers Jim Lee and Clyde Ward, both engineers, worked with Barkhau during his high school years.

“I told the kids I don’t want to call him ‘Mr. Barkhau,’ but I will,” Lee said with a smile. “The kids keep me coming back. When they learn something new, they light up and really enjoy it.

“When I interview young people for engineering jobs and see FIRST robotics on their resumes, it definitely gets my attention.”