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$2.5 Million Awarded to FIRST Robotics Teams Over Two Decades

by on July 12, 2016

(Story by Barry Schumann)

From supporting one FIRST Robotics high school team in 1996 to more than 100 robotics teams at all grade levels in 2016, AEP has promoted STEM (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) education and STEM careers through robotics over two decades.

FIRST (For  Inspiration and Recognition  of Science  and Technology) seeks to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based, robotics-centered programs that build STEM skills, inspire innovation and foster self-confidence, communication and leadership.

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AEP awarded a total of $200,000 in grants of between $250 and $6,000 to 101 FIRST teams across the AEP service area earlier this year. The company has contributed more than $2.5 million to inspire an estimated 23,000 students’ interest and participation in science and technology since 1996. AEP increased its annual donations for FIRST teams to $200,000 in 2009, and has seen the number of teams interested in funding grow ever since.

Less easy to track through the years has been participation of employees across the AEP System in volunteer roles of FIRST coaches, mentors, judges, etc. While employees are encouraged to participate in these STEM programs, there has been no systematic way to record their efforts until now (see related story).

FIRST robotics includes activities and competitions for Junior FIRST LEGO League for grades K-4, FIRST LEGO League for grades 4-8, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) for grades 7-12 and FIRST Robotics Competition for grades 9-12. All teams are led by educators, coaches and/or mentors who volunteer to engage students in researching and solving a diverse range of problems using robotics. AEP provides grants to teams through a competitive application process with a late-January deadline each year.

New this year, AEP joined the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) and 11 other energy companies to sponsor FIRST and promote a new STEM career awareness program for middle and high school students.  The Get into Energy/Get into STEM program coordinated by CEWD is in its second year.  This year’s sponsorship provided funding at competitions for “robot doctor” stations, to help FTC teams with fees to transition to a new technology platform, and to offer FTC team grants.

Information on the [AEP FIRST robotics grant program ]is available at the Community and Education Relations section on AEP Now.

CEWD is a consortium of electric, natural gas, and nuclear companies and their associations. Through partnerships with energy companies, the community, and academia, CEWD helps to foster exploration and participation in energy career paths leading to future employees. To learn more, visit Get Into Energy.

FIRST volunteers asked to share experience

AEP encourages employees to consider volunteering as coaches or mentors for teams, or as judges or volunteers for local and regional competitions. This year, nearly three dozen employees from nine states and every operating company volunteered for some aspect of FIRST robotics. But there may be others who have volunteered to coach or assist their local team or event. We suspect that all who volunteered would like to share information on their efforts to encourage STEM learning.

To that end, EEI and CEWD have created an online system to enable employees and companies to register, enter and track their volunteer and monetary support for FIRST robotics teams and/or events. The system will help AEP, its operating companies, and our industry understand how employee volunteer efforts along with corporate monetary support is impacting STEM learning through FIRST robotics.

If you would like information on volunteering for FIRST in the future, please contact Barry Schumann.

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