The robotics camps were bolstered by the donation of 30 laptops from the VA STAR (Virginia Student Training and Refurbishment) program. VA STAR students refurbish surplus hardware from state agencies or private companies and earn IT repair certification for their work. Once refurbished, these computers are donated to families and organizations in need of a computer. SySTEMic Solutions used the laptops for their summer robotics camps so the students could program their robots.
Chuck Drake, head of VA STAR, was excited about the potential use of the laptops. “Both VA STAR and the robotics programs provide hands-on learning opportunities that enhance the STEM workforce pipeline. SySTEMic Solutions has been such an effective force in the growth of robotics in the region that it’s an obvious choice to furnish them with these laptops because we know they’ll go to great use at the camps,” Drake said.
SySTEMic Solutions’ robotics camps have been running in Prince William County and Manassas City since 2008. Due to increasing demand, introductory camps were started in Loudoun and Arlington this summer.
The camps provide students with a platform to learn scientific principles, engineering design processes and computer programming. Through teamwork and competition, the students gain valuable insight and experience in all four STEM disciplines while also having fun. Robotics has proven a vital component in developing skills that prepare students for further STEM education, nurturing an early and sustained interest and getting them moving along the pipeline with excitement and promise.
Participating students from fourth to 10th grade engaged in FIRST LEGO League or VEX robotics challenges in building, programming and competition.
Always popular in Prince William County, many of the robotics camps exceeded projected totals. More than 360 students enrolled.
More unknown was how robotics camps would fare in new counties but the response to the introductory camps in Loudoun County was overwhelming as they quickly filled beyond capacity and exceeded their projections across the board. There were 224 projected students but 350 actually enrolled, which required a waiting list.
The newer camps in Arlington had smaller numbers but were developmentally promising.
All in all, the VA STAR laptop giveaway and the success of the summer robotics camps bode well for the future of STEM in Northern Virginia. Josh Labrie, program manager at SySTEMic Solutions, said “You can’t run camps without equipment and we are deeply grateful for the laptop donation which has helped us recruit younger students into STEM fields. The VA STAR legacy involves growing the STEM pipeline and high school students are potentially making a career decision by being involved in that program. Through their work on the laptops we have a wider impact on the number of students we can reach in the summer camps. The older, more experienced students at VA STAR are able to positively affect and influence the younger students who are just entering the pipeline.”
Corporate sponsors for the 2013 STEM Camps were Micron (Manassas), Aerojet RocketDyne (Gainesville) and UNO Chicago Grill (Manassas).