Grants Leading to Growth in State Robotics Teams

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(image courtesy of TechPoint Foundation for Youth) (image courtesy of TechPoint Foundation for Youth)

An effort to grow the number of schools offering robotics programs is showing signs of success. The Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship is set to take place next month at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and the TechPoint Foundation for Youth says the amount of robotics teams throughout the state is on the rise. George Giltner, state director of robotics for the organization, says out of nearly 1,900 schools throughout Indiana, 645 of them have at least one robotics team, whereas only about 70 teams existed in 2015.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Giltner said the foundation has been working to grow that number through State Robotics Startup Grants. He says the grant is intended to do three things.

"It's intended to pay fully for a school that wants to start a robotics team," said Giltner. "It provides the training and knowledge, because a lot of these are elementary and middle school teachers that don't know anything about robotics. So, we spend a half a day with them to explain what is robotics, how it can impact their students and then we walk them through the equipment that they'll be using, and then throughout the year, we support them as much as we can."

Giltner says the third part of the grant is a small stipend for teachers provided by Guggenheim Life Annuity to help cover the cost and time required to run a robotics team. He says the initiative is part of a six-year plan, with the first two years including offering robotics grants just to elementary schools. The effort is now in its third year, which includes offering grants to middle schools, and will eventually offer grants to high schools as well in the fifth and sixth years.

Giltner says one of the surprising things to come out of this initiative is the number of robotics teams that have sprung up in such a quick fashion. He says when the grant program began in the 2016-2017 academic year, there were only 73 teams among elementary schools and the organization handed out 330 grants. The number of teams rose to 520 in just one year.

"What is happening when we hand out startup robotics grant, these schools will start one team that can cater to about 10 students, but they get 20 or 30 students raising their hand wanting to be on the robotics team," said Giltner. "Those schools then go and start a second or third team. This is something we did not anticipate. That next year was a big milestone for us to figure out will it be sustainable, we handed out 200 elementary grants and that (number of) elementary teams rose to 900. So it's growing and sustaining which is what we had hoped."

Giltner adds they are also seeing an increase in the number of girls participating in robotics teams. He says the TechPoint Foundation for Youth had set a goal in 2016 to reach 50 percent participation among girls by 2020, but that number has already grown to 66 percent today.

"Robotics helps kids learn to solve problems, create things, communicate well. It’s also a fun introduction to science, technology, engineering and math,” Giltner said. “It’s especially great for girls, who generally drop out of those STEM classes by the time they reach high school. This is a way to keep them involved, thriving and potentially working toward a tech career.”

The second annual Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship will take place March 9 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The TechPoint Foundation for Youth says about 100 teams competing at the event will advance to the world competition in April. You can learn more about the championship by clicking here.

Giltner said the TechPoint Foundation for Youth has been working to grow that number through State Robotics Startup Grants.
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