From its humble beginnings in 2013, the Explorer Robotics program at La Salle College High School wanted the reach of its remote-controlled LEGO kits and outreach initiatives to range far beyond school walls.
“There probably aren't a lot of high school students who get to FaceTime with the head coach of a robotics team in Kenya. It's cool to see that we're making an impact, not just nearby, but hundreds of miles away across an ocean’’
Thanks to the guidance of moderators Ryan McDowell, Vish Patel, and Pat Rose, and the leadership of students and twin brothers Kevin and Chris White, that reach has increased exponentially, first into its immediate community and lately, well beyond it.
Now seniors, Kevin and Chris have been instrumental in helping the non-profit, student-run organization develop teams and programs at local middle schools and even overseas, as well. Explorer Robotics will be one of the organizations participating in La Salle College High School's annual STEM Night on October 13th. The event, which begins at 6:30 PM, will showcase the many opportunities that students have to explore their inner engineering and STEM passions.
“They are amazing,’’ McDowell says of the White brothers and their work with Explorer Robotics. “They are doing the organizational and marketing things, and doing all the media. They are the ones who reach out to sponsors.’’
Some of those sponsors facilitated an international expansion of the program. Over the past year, the program has fielded calls from educators in Kenya, Brazil, and Nicaragua. On the morning of this interview, the twins were looking at photos sent from a school in Kenya that they helped via the outreach.
“It’s been so rewarding to take the experience we are having with robotics and spread that through the Philadelphia area and to some communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to technology’’
“We've definitely taken the initiative to expand outside of La Salle,’’ says Kevin, who is now the president after switching roles with Chris. “That was something that I think the guys before us had always been hoping to do. We've really been able to get everyone on board from Mr. McDowell on down. And we've recruited a lot of mentors from the industry. We have a mentor from Lockheed Martin who's working part-time with us right now.’’
Says Chris, “There probably aren't a lot of high school students who get to FaceTime with the head coach of a robotics team in Kenya. It's cool to see that we're making an impact, not just nearby, but hundreds of miles away across an ocean.’’
Robotics is an interactive approach to STEM, which integrates engineering and computer science with design, construction, operation, application, and computer systems to produce robots. FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national school-centric robotics community that prepares young people for the future through a suite of inclusive, team-based robotics programs.
FIRST® has grown from 28 teams 30 years ago to a multi-faceted operation that has launched countless other FIRST® robotics teams, hosted STEM-oriented camps and trained numerous educators to mentor robotics teams at their own schools.
Explorer Robotics provides first-year expenses for all new teams. This can include LEGO kits, iPads, and FLL (FIRST® LEGO League) tables. They also provide access to coaching workshops and local competitions. The idea is to provide the resources for these new launches so the teams can operate autonomously.
In all, Explorer Robotics has launched 16 such robotics teams over the past five years.
Examples include Saint Cecilia School in Fox Chase, Holy Trinity School in Morrisville, and Our Lady of Calvary in Philadelphia. The goal is to add two teams every year. While the LSCHS students’ main focus is Catholic schools, they have also helped establish community-based educational programs, three all-girl FLL teams and an all-girls FLL Jr team.
Over the past two years, the program has been recognized by FIRST® with the District Chairman’s Award – beating out over 70 schools and placing them in contention for the Chairman’s Award at the regional championship for Pennslyvania, New Jersey, and Deleware.
In the meantime, two new schools, Sacred Heart in Havertown and Devon Prep have recently been added to the schools the Explorer Robotics program will help out. Then there is the continued expansion into other countries and the details that requires. Finally, the twins have that elusive Regional Chairman’s Award in their crosshairs, which would qualify the team for the Worldwide Chairman’s Award.
“It’s been so rewarding to take the experience we are having with robotics and spread that through the Philadelphia area and to some communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to technology,’’ says Chris. “Even in the international sense, it's been really fulfilling that some of these kids are getting access to technology they never would've been able to. I hope we can keep doing that.
“And I hope that La Salle students in future years will continue that kind of mission of not just having a good robotics team, but spreading the experiences they've had and been blessed with.’’
Courtesy of La Salle College High School
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