Robotics & STEM: The Future in Education, Need Support Now

While the demand for students educated in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is increasing, one South Valley school has begun expanding the intellect and imagination of its students through a robotics class and club.

Partnered with College of the Sequoias (COS), the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) opened University Prep High School (UPHS), a free public, high-learning school located on the COS campus in 2009. On Fridays, students in any high school grade level at the school can enroll in Josh Curtiss’ robotics class.

By definition, Wikipedia defines robotics as:

. . .an interdisciplinary branch of engineering and science that includes mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and others. Robotics deals with the design, construction, operation, and use of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing.

The mission statement of UPHS states:

UPHS Robotics aims to integrate STEM, teamwork, leadership, business, and communication through 21st century learning. We strive to have our team make an impact on our school and the local community.

Our team works to ensure all students at UPHS have an opportunity to learn about STEM beyond the standard classroom. Our ambition is to provide a safe environment for students to make mistakes, ask questions, and learn through experience.

Robotics is Not Just for Guys

The robotics class and club came about through a basic engineering principles class which grew into more, said Chinnayi Reddy, a junior who serves as manager of the robotics club. Reddy is one of eight girls in the class, which has 20 guys enrolled.

“We do a lot of outreach,” she said of the normally male-dominated field. “We want to promote it to girls.”

“I’ve always been interested in learning how things work,” she said.

In the engineering class, they would take apart and put computers back together again.

“Ever since I was able, I wanted to know why and how things work,” she added.

During the last school year, the basic engineering class morphed into robotics. But robotics is expensive. Class members started having to look for sponsors. They also learned how to apply for grant funds.

The team received a grant with FIRST robotics, only given to rookie teams, and got additional help from TCOE grants.

Enough came in that the UPHS Robotics team was able to partake in the Central Valley Regional competition, held in Madera last March.

UPHS earned the Rookie Inspiration Award.

UPHS wants other schools in the South Valley to become more involved with robotics and competitions, Reddy said.

The UPHS team has also begun working with elementary school students.

Sponsorships for other robotic teams in the state have come through Disney, Boeing, Google and Northrop Grumman, to name a few, said Meena Reddy, Chinnayi’s mother.

So far, the UPHS team is the only team from Tulare County to participate in competitions, the elder Reddy said.

“We want to see if we could spread this to other schools in the county,” she said.

“We want the local businesses to hear about this and help schools in hosting their own teams to compete. It doesn’t have to be just this school, they could help promote this in the schools that their kids attend. This is very much necessary in high schools and they have teams for elementary and middle schools as well.”

Banquet Fundraiser September 30

Meena Reddy is the spearhead for a banquet fundraiser held through the UPHS Parent Support Organization. TCOE has offered up its conference center for the event, which is scheduled for Saturday, September 30 at 6pm.

Tickets are $75/each with reserved tables available, as well as banquet sponsorships.

“We do not get much exposure about the scope and importance of robotics in Valley schools,” Meena Reddy said.

“The team is severely underfunded despite looking to the local community for resources, the team worked toward the competition with very limited resources,” she added. “After observing this process last year, I decided to work with the team and the Tulare County Office of Education to host a banquet, in hopes of raising funds the team education in an area that is becoming exceedingly important to the 21st Century.”

She is not the only one who thinks so.

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…” said President Barack Obama in March, 2015.

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