MassRobotics Offers STEM Programs With Toyota Research Institute Support

Adopt a School Program and Jumpstart Fellowship intended to inspire diverse students to consider careers in STEM.


MassRobotics and its corporate partners provided prosthetic robotic hand kits to high school students.
MassRobotics and corporate partners launched the Adopt a School Program in conjunction with National Robotics Week and the Jumpstart Fellowship Program to encourage high school students to consider STEM careers.

While most discussions about robotics and automation focus on potential productivity benefits, there is also an opportunity for technology to improve the quality of employment in diverse communities. However, much work remains to be done with inspiring students and connecting them with careers. MassRobotics this month organized two programs to address this need.

Only 5% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers in Massachusetts are African-American, 7% are Latinx, and one-third are women, according to the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

MassRobotics is dedicated to growing the Massachusetts robotics ecosystem through partnerships with business and academia. In addition to its space for robotics startups, member networking, and informative events, the organization is working with the local community and educators, said Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics.

“Interest has really grown in our STEM efforts this past year,” he told Robotics 24/7. “It has been tough for students to be on Zoom calls all day, so the ability to offer them different content has been helpful to teachers. We've offered courses and technology to help them learn about robots, and there's nothing more exciting.”

TRI sponsors Adopt a School

Students at New Mission High School participate in robotics training with Khalif Mitchell, STEM lead at MassRobotics. Source: MassRobotics

During National Robotics Week, MassRobotics' Adopt a School program hosted a session at New Mission High School in Boston. Founding sponsors included the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Lexington Concord Chapter and The MITRE Corp.

“One of the teachers at New Mission High School [said] he loved the program,” said Joyce Sidopoulos, vice president of programs and community at MassRobotics. “He said he hasn't ever seen kids stay off their phones for that length of time! The kids were engaged, and it was great that they received immediate satisfaction in completing the task ... they didn't want to leave and kept their parents waiting!”

In addition, Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory participated in MassRobotics' Adopt a School Program at the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury, Mass. On two days last week, 14 students used 10 BrainCo resuable robotics kits, which TRI donated to the school. A TRI research scientist joined a MassRobotics instructor and a local high school teacher.

“We're not throwing technology at teachers—we're giving them a curriculum, showing them how to use the kits, and helping them learn how to program and operate a prosthetic hand,” said Ryden. “The schools can use the kits after this program.”

“It’s energizing to see public, private, and nonprofit sectors coming together to bring robotics curriculum to Boston public high schools,” stated Kerri Fetzer-Borelli, head of diversity, equity, inclusion, and community engagement at TRI. “Our hope is to inspire students with diverse knowledge, skills and lived experiences to enter the robotics and STEM fields so that they can have an impact on future innovations.”

“We've worked with MassRobotics for previous Robotics Weeks and its Robotics Block Parties,” she told Robotics 24/7. “We got involved as one of the first sponsors of the Adopt a School program. We believe that machines and AI have an incredible capability to amplify and assist humans, but first we need to cultivate a pipeline of diverse talent to solve our most complex technical problems.”

“At the end of the event, we asked students to write essays sharing their experiences and interests,” Fetzer-Borelli added. “We want to incentivize them to pursue careers in STEM and robotics and to create technologies that serve all communities.”

TRI plans to award a $3,000 scholarship to a student pursuing STEM studies in the coming weeks.

Students and instructors from MassRobotics' Adopt a School program. Source: MassRobotics

Jumpstart Fellowship Program

MassRobotics' Jumpstart Fellowship Program provides opportunities for high school girls to learn about careers in STEM and robotics through a curriculum involving programming, design and simulation, hands-on building, prototyping, and testing. The program also includes mentorship opportunities.

“TRI is also donating robotic hand kits and time during this 26-week program,” said Fetzer-Borelli. “The program will include a thorough introduction to STEM concepts, the basics of MATLAB, and 3D printing.”

“We've just selected our first cohort,” said Sidopoulos. The Jumpstart Fellowship Program will begin next week with daily meetings at MassRobotics' facilities in Boston's Seaport District. They will be followed by weekly in-person meetings from May through June, as well as weekly 1.5-hour Zoom check-ins with staffers and mentors.

From June through August, the cohort will be placed at paid internships with partner companies and will have biweekly meetings to share experiences. MassRobotics said that SolidWorks, MathWorks, Lightspeed Manufacturing, and GreenSight are contributing their expertise to the curriculum.

At the end of the Jumpstart program, each student who completes it will get a $1,000 stipend.

“We've had great sponsors and programs this first year, and we'd love to offer these programs in larger numbers,” said Ryden.

MassRobotics has used BrainCo's Dexus prosthetic for STEM training.

About the Author

Eugene Demaitre's avatar
Eugene Demaitre
Eugene Demaitre was editorial director of Robotics 24/7. Prior to joining Peerless Media, he was a senior editor at Robotics Business Review and The Robot Report. Demaitre has also worked for BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, and TechTarget. He has participated in numerous robotics-related webinars, podcasts, and events worldwide.
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MassRobotics and its corporate partners provided prosthetic robotic hand kits to high school students.

Robot Technologies