Herobotics wins FIRST Grant, multiplies Robotics in Minneapolis Building a diverse community with robots

Who knew building robots could help build a community? Herobotics, Patrick Henry’s own Robotics Team, believes they can! In partnership with Shingle Creek Neighborhood Association (SCNA), they recently applied for and received an international grant from FIRST to expand robotics to diverse Minneapolis students at the middle and high school levels.

FIRST is a worldwide robotics organization seeking to increase respect, appreciation and involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through robotics competitions for youth ages 5-18.

Herobotics has had its own struggles as an urban team over the past 10 years, and as a result, they understand the need for support. Urban teams at many times face challenges sustaining and growing their robotics teams. Unlike in other areas, parents and mentors are busy with many commitments, and students face challenges with transportation to and from after-school programs. In addition, Minnesota has a large participation gap between the grade school level FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and the secondary level FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) programs. Many middle schools throughout Minnesota do not have FIRST programs, especially urban middle schools, which creates a participation gap in the international robotics program of FIRST. The gap also limits involvement of underrepresented and underserved groups from finding their place in STEM including: Hispanic and Latino, African American, Somali, Hmong, girls and young women, as well as a large population of economically disadvantaged youth.

Herobotics observed the challenges of involvement especially with Minneapolis urban youth and saw a solution through the expansion of FIRST programs in our area, specifically through the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) program. This past spring, Herobotics and Shingle Creek Neighborhood Association applied for the “FIRST STEM Equity Community Innovation Grant” to help increase students access to robotics in the Minneapolis urban area, and in July the partnership group became one of the only 10 grant recipients worldwide.

Beginning back in August, the multi-organizational coalition — including Minneapolis Urban Robotics Alliance (MURA), SCNA, High Tech Kids, and Minneapolis GEMS/GISE — formed the umbrella organization named Minneapolis Equity Robotics Project (MERP). The coalition sought to effectively plan, design and implement five FTC teams in Minneapolis schools, and further strengthen the presence of FIRST in Minneapolis.

Teams have already begun working at Olson, Franklin, Northeast and Henry, with one more team to be formed in the near future. This year’s FTC challenge, VELOCITY VORTEX℠, involves teams building a robot that is about a foot wide that scores whiffle balls into goals on the floor and on a rotating structure above the floor.

“The goal of creating these five teams in the middle and high schools of Minneapolis is to help close the technology gap in Minneapolis, and increase diversity and inclusion within STEM,” said David Sylvestre, CTE Department Chair at Patrick Henry, and Lead Coach for Herobotics. “FIRST robotics is a great way to engage urban students. Working together we are providing a growing number of students an opportunity that is life changing.”