More students and school districts across Northern Michigan will have access to robotics and STEM education programming in the coming school year thanks to the legislative advocacy efforts of Chamber member Quarkmine, LLC in partnership with the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and regional business leaders.
State lawmakers added an additional $500,000 to Michigan’s 2018-19 budget for competitive robotics grants – for a total of $3 million this year – and changed the grant language to include multiple robotics platforms. Chamber Government Relations Director Kent Wood worked with business partners Philip Leete and John Gilligan of Quarkmine LLC, a Traverse City-based business that helps school districts and students with robotics programs, along with support from other partners including the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council, the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation, and other Chambers from around northwest Michigan to secure the changes.
“Robotics and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education programming is growing across Michigan and it is critical in preparing our students to thrive in the 21st Century world economy,” Wood said. “The efforts of these partners to secure additional funding and expand competitive robotics opportunities to other successful robotics programs is a win for rural communities and means more students across Northern Michigan can gain access to this exciting platform to learn about STEM skills and careers.”
This grassroots initiative amended the state’s competitive robotics grant language to include robotics platforms beyond the FIRST Robotics program that’s existed in Michigan for several years, specifically for VEX Robotics – the largest and fastest growing robotics program in the world. Michigan school districts will now have the option to apply for grant for both FIRST Robotics and VEX Robotics, the nation’s two leading competitive robotics platforms.
Quarkmine owner Leete said the change is significant because the VEX Robotics platform can be better suited for smaller, rural school districts that don’t have a lot of manufacturing or heavy industry in their communities. Some districts have struggled to sustain and compete in the more expensive and resource-intensive robotics competitions. The expanded programming will allow students from smaller districts to get involved in robotics and STEM-related fields at a younger age with more hands on experience, he said.
“Right now, two major programs in Michigan are REC VEX Robotics and FIRST Robotics,” Leete said. “Both programs have opportunities for students at all grade levels. Now, a school could choose either one, or both, and receive a grant from the state. This is a big deal for northern Michigan’s students and future employers.”
“The manufacturing and technology industries that will drive future economic growth will require a workforce that is creative, can adapt, and thinks critically. It is so important that students learn about these opportunities and begin to build these skills at an early age, and that is why programs like competitive robotics are such an important tool in getting kids hooked on STEM,” said Jon Dreher, Director of Manufacturing at TentCraft and chair of the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council.
Leete and Wood thanked local legislators Sen. Wayne Schmidt and Rep. Larry Inman for opening up the door to budget leaders and supporting the proposed changes. Key support was secured from State House K-12 Budget Committee Chair Rep. Tim Kelly, Senate K-12 Budget Committee Chair Sen. Geoff Hansen and Senate Appropriations Commission Chair Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, along with Gov. Rick Snyder.
More information on the legislative advocacy efforts of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is available by contacting Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Chamber’s website at www.tcchamber.org