Watch Out! Robots in the Valley!

How do you get thousands of 10- to 18-year-olds excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education?  HINT: Ask them to them build a robot.

For over 10 years, TVA has supported Valley robotics programs as a hands-on way to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math. “Inspiring today’s youth in STEM-related subjects is critical in developing the workforce of the future for TVA and other Valley industries,” says Gail Rymer, TVA Director of Public Relations. “That’s why we focus on STEM education, as an integral part of our Community Relations program. The robotics program helps introduce students to the skills necessary to succeed in the high-tech, digitally driven and knowledge-based economy of the future.”

“STEM skills are in great demand and those jobs garner higher wages,” says Charley Spencer, TVA robotics program manager. “Robotics programs immerse children in real-world, team-based STEM challenges, exposing them to career choices they may not have considered otherwise.” Studies show that over 80 percent of the jobs in the Valley will require a degree or certification after high school. “And let’s face it, playing with robots is a fun way to get children excited about high-paying careers,” Spencer adds.

In the 2015-16 school year, teams will compete at over 20 robotics competitions sponsored by TVA. TVA also provides funding to Valley schools to help teams build their robots. These teams design their own robots to compete head to head in a series of missions. Each age group has design criteria that get more complex as students progress into the high school league. Local winners move on to regionals and then on to state competitions. The ultimate prize is to represent their school and age group at the national competition in the spring.

Over 500 elementary, middle and high schools in the Valley have robotics programs. The program has grown exponentially in recent years. For example, ten years ago there were only about five after-school robotics clubs in Chattanooga, Tenn. Today, there are upwards of 60 in the greater Chattanooga area alone.

With success there have been challenges. “What is unique about robotics is the need for community support,” observes Spencer. “As students progress into the advanced high school competition they engage in complex, cutting-edge programming and engineering.” As a result, the student clubs need mentors and the competitions need volunteers to be successful.

“That volunteer challenge is where the power of TVA’s Community Relations strategy comes into play, explains Rymer. “As a leading employer in the Valley, TVA is a nexus that can bring together TVA employees and retirees, schools, the business community and private organizations to increase volunteerism and engagement. Our goal with our robotics program is to positively impact the lives of our community’s children and prepare them for STEM careers.”

Follow TVA on Facebook and Twitter to see how Valley robotics teams are progressing.