at the intersection of industry and education: stem

Two guests from the Latino STEM Alliance group focus on a project during a visit to MassRobotics, which provides STEM education experiences for kids.

In Feb 2018, MassRobotics received grant money to double its workspace in Boston’s Seaport Innovation District, and setting their sights on more STEM programs.

Part 2 of an interview with Joyce Sidopoulos, Co-founder and Director, Community and Programs for MassRobotics.

Give us some background on your involvement with STEM
This is one of the core values of our founding team and we wanted to ensure it was included in our mission statement. We have grad students floating around MassRobotics, and having them here is terrific. But we also feel we need to educate younger students. We love exposing the community to all the benefits that robotics and automation have to offer and especially enjoy showing technology and potential careers to students of all ages.

Two guests from the Latino STEM Alliance group work on a project during a visit to MassRobotics.

MassRobotics STEM events
While we hold many events for our startups, we also have a strong STEM mission and enjoy hosting student events. In February, right after we opened, we held a Raspberry Pi Jam – students brought projects to share and a team from Vecna shared resources with the students. In April 2017, we hosted over 100 middle and high school students at our STEM open house during National Robotics Week. Attendees were treated to demonstrations throughout our lab space. We even had an obstacle course where students drove a robot through a couple of stations and had to perform some manipulation. By the way, the students loved teaching Baxter to repeat tasks they’d easily taught him – it showed them that robotics can be made simple!

Students gather around a Baxter collaborative robot during a visit to MassRobotics.
Students from Boston’s O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, along with Marissa McCoy (a volunteer from MITRE Corporation), gather around a Baxter collaborative robot during a visit to MassRobotics.

And in June we welcomed Boston Public School Sophomore STEM Scholars from the John D. O’Bryant School. Students received an introduction to robotics and automation by Executive Director, Tom Ryden, and discussed the future workforce.

What are your plans for this year?
This year we are looking to pilot a couple of programs that we’ll be able to scale next year once our STEM lab and event space is built out. For example, we’ve been working with a group from the Harvard Biodesign Lab. They have a developed a curriculum series called The Soft Robotics Toolkit. In one of the classes, students built a finger to help them learn about soft actuation. In fact, what they built looks like a super simplified version of the NASA Valkyrie finger that’s currently in our lab space!

NASA's Valkyrie robot hangs out at MassRobotics, while a visitor examines one of its mechanical hands.
NASA’s Valkyrie robot hangs out at MassRobotics, while a visitor examines one of its mechanical hands.

What are some other ideas you have for expanding your STEM programs?
We’ve had discussions with the Boston Public Schools about incorporating robotics into their curriculum and hosting classes in our new space, and we’re currently working on funding to support this. I imagine an entire floor dedicated to STEM – with labs, daily classes, summer camps – a place for schools to come for field trips. And remember the Rainforest Café? It was a destination.

Members of the Science Club for Girls get hands on with a robotic arm at MassRobotics' shared workspace.
Members of the Science Club for Girls get hands on with a robotic arm at MassRobotics’ shared workspace.

I see a robotic restaurant that families will want to come to, where we can test all things robotic, and the public can participate in this testing. This will be a terrific way to include everyone, make everyone feel they are part of this unlimited future…the sky is the limit – literally!!

In case you missed it, check out part one of this interview with Joyce. And for a daily dose of robot chatter, connect with Rethink and MassRobotics on the Twitter machine.

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