Philadelphia Robotics Coalition publicly launches, seeks funding to expand impact
Already impacting 22 schools, the Coalition seeks $75,000 additional annual funding to increase reach to more schools across Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA — Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, joined with Philadelphia elected officials, philanthropic leaders and educators to help publicly unveil the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition and its $75,000 fundraising campaign to make robotics programs accessible to every Philadelphia public high school student.
The Philadelphia Robotics Coalition was quietly launched in 2016 to supplement STEM education in Philadelphia schools. It connects schools with financial resources and mentors to start and sustain FIRST robotics teams.
Teams supported by the coalition face off against other schools in the FIRST Tech Challenge in which they design and build robots that work together in teams to perform specific tasks. This year, the challenge is called Rover Ruckus — a space-themed game where robots mine ore on an imaginary planet to earn points.
Last year, thanks to support from the Neubauer Family Foundation, the coalition was able to serve students in 22 schools — running workshops and providing grants and mentors that expand engineering and science opportunities while teaching skills in leadership and teamwork.
“High-quality STEM education and robotics programs are extremely important because they help our students learn how to think critically, problem-solve, and ask questions about their surroundings,” said Dr. Hite. “They also help students prepare for meaningful college and career experiences, whether or not they pursue a STEM-related field. We are proud to partner with the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition to help expand these opportunities to more students across the city.”
Dr. Hite was joined at an event Saturday by City Councilman Bobby Henon, District students and teachers, Rebecca Cornejo, Executive Director of the Neubauer Family Foundation, and Michael Johnson, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition and Central High School’s robotics coach.
The coalition was founded to ensure continued funding and support for science and engineering programs in Philadelphia during times of fiscal uncertainty. To confront this issue, the RoboLancers, Central High School’s robotics team, stepped up and launched the coalition to support a collaborative ecosystem that supports robotics teams through grants and mentorship.
“When I started at Central in 2014, the number of FIRST Tech Challenge teams in Philadelphia was dwindling,” said Johnson. “We launched this Coalition to bring stability and robust support to Philadelphia teams so that our robotics community could grow and flourish.”
The Neubauer Family Foundation stepped up and agreed to become the coalition’s first major philanthropic supporter, through a three-year $25,000 per year challenge grant.
“The Coalition has thus far exceeded all of the milestones set forth in our grant—engaging greater numbers of students, teachers, mentors and supporters than anticipated,” said Cornejo. “And, this is only the beginning. The Coalition has great potential to not only impact thousands of students in our city, but also provide a path for innovation in robotics and STEM education nationwide.”
The $75,000 the coalition seeks to raise will enable it to intensify its support for teams already in the program, building stability that will ensure their longevity, while also expanding the program to more schools across the city.
In addition to financial support, the coalition connects teams to adult engineers, tradespeople and other professionals who can serve as mentors to teams and inspire future careers in STEM. Last year, the coalition began a partnership with the U.S. Navy to provide mentors to teams in six schools.
“Mentors make all the difference for students looking to get involved with an exciting chance to get hands-on experience with STEM,” said Vicki Baker, the coach of the robotics team at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, which receives grant funding from the coalition. “I have witnessed students with no background in robotics, engineering or science for that matter learn the creative problem-solving process, dive into engineering design and win competitions. They have become eloquent public speakers, expert writers and have been transformed into conscientious students eager to pursue STEM careers and college.”
The Girls’ High team has been a consistent winner, qualifying for the state championship two years in a row. “For me, robotics has redefined the word ‘impossible’,” said Lynda Lam, a senior on the team. “‘Impossible’ no longer means we can’t. We’ve experienced success — now there are nothing but endless possibilities.”
More information about the coalition can be found online at roboticscoalition.org.