A state delegate from Montgomery County wants Maryland students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education outside of the classroom and is asking the state to chip in by supporting robotics clubs and competitions.
Del. Kirill Reznik, a Democrat, is sponsoring a bill in Annapolis that would create a robotics grant program within the Maryland State Department of Education and require the state to put at least $500,000 toward the program each year.
Reznik said he was inspired after attending a robotics competition in College Park in 2015 hosted by the nonprofit FIRST organization, a group dedicated to inspiring student interest in technology and engineering. Several coaches told him that teams needed more money.
“It jazzed me up,” he said. “I wanted to help.”
The grant program would be open to any organization, but FIRST — which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is one of the largest organizations that supports youth robotics.
FIRST sponsors four levels of tech- and robotics-themed contests nationwide, catering to students as young as six and as old as 18; there are currently more than 50 FIRST teams in Maryland.
The higher-level competitions require students to design and build robots to complete certain tasks, such as place rings around a hoop or throw balls through a hoop; younger students build smaller machines out of Lego bricks.
Many of those teams depend heavily on volunteer support and donations, Reznik said. State support would let children spend more time on the science and engineering, he said.
“We’re very enthusiastic,” said Bill Duncan, executive director of STEMaction, a nonprofit that promotes STEM programs, and a former regional director of the Maryland chapter of FIRST.
The state funding would go toward equipment purchases, team registration costs and could help supplement stipends for teachers who lead the teams, Duncan said.
“These robotics competitions are really excellent, hands-on STEM activities,” he said. “They’re some of the best programs to get kids excited about science and technology.”