Pennsylvania Rural Robotics Initiative Creates Unique Opportunity for Students in Region

| February 15, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – The Pennsylvania Rural Robotics Initiative is working to create unique opportunities for local students in a growing industry.

The initiative grew out of an effort to bring a robotics program to the Franklin Area School District.

Franklin’s Gifted and Talented teacher Tim Heffernan began looking into the competitive robotics platform from VEX Robotics last year and even traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, for a workshop in an attempt to bring a robotics program to students in our region.

Hefferan then discovered the REC (Robotics Education & Competition) Foundation, a national non-profit educational organization that provides program support and workshops focused on technology and professional development for educators. He was encouraged to attempt to organize VEX Robotics teams in our region and apply for a grant. He pitched the idea to the Riverview Intermediate Unit #6 last spring, and with their support, he began to organize a program.

Currently, the Pennsylvania Rural Robotics Initiative is made up of twenty-five individual school sites from 11 school districts, the intermediate unit, and one career and technology center. The member schools are located throughout Clarion, Clearfield, Forest, Jefferson, and Venango Counties.

Members include Brookville Area School District, Clarion-Limestone Area School District, Cranberry Area School District, DuBois Area School District, Forest Area School District, Franklin Area School District, Intermediate Unit 6, Keystone School District, North Clarion County School District, Oil City Area School District, Redbank Valley School District, Valley Grove School District, and Venango Technology Center.

PA Rural Robotics Initiative 3

The program’s primary goal is to develop sustainable educational robotics programming for the students in our region. The program provides not only the necessary equipment and training but will also involve experts from both academia and industry. It also provides long-term support and infrastructure for these programs to prepare local students for success in the classroom and beyond.

While educational partners, including the Clarion University of Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Mellon University, are providing unique and valuable experiences in person and virtually for students and teacher/coaches in the program, Economic Development professionals are also connecting private sector employers to school districts to interact with students and aid in coding and engineering. These industry partners will also work with Workforce Development professionals to teach students communication and problem-solving skills and the importance of teamwork.

Hefferan told exploreVenango.com, “We tried to get out and speak to industry partners to find out their needs and make those connections. The response locally has been fantastic.”

Currently, the Pennsylvania Rural Robotics Initiative is working to partner with Clarion University, Miller Fabrication Solutions, Komatsu, Kronospan, and McCandless Ford, along with the VEX Robotics, the REC Foundation, and Bridge Builders Community Foundation.

“When we have workshop days, we will have people from those industry partners to help,” explained Hefferan.

PA Rural Robotics Initiative

When Hefferan and the others involved in the program realized how quickly the initiative was growing and how much it would take to sustain it, they began looking for ways to support the program long-term and decided to apply for a PAsmart Grant.

“It all happened in a really short period of time. We’re really just going about a million miles per hour right now,” Hefferan said.

Although the Pennsylvania Rural Robotics Initiative has been working with Bridge Builders Community Foundation as their non-profit for the financial end, the PA Smart Grants are restricted to educational agencies, so they needed to apply through a school district, according to Heffernan.

“I’m a teacher at Franklin, but I didn’t want this to just have an all Franklin feel,” Hefferan said. “My administration would have been happy to do it, but it just made more sense to make it someone else, and Cranberry Area School District stepped up.”

This week, it was announced that the Cranberry Area School District was awarded a $361,600.00 PAsmart advancing grant for the PA Rural Robotics Initiative.

According to Hefferan, $299,000.00 of the grant will be divided equally among the entities participating in the program, while the remainder of the grant will be used for teacher training, industry certification programs for students, and the development of dual enrollment courses through Clarion University for junior and senior students in the program.

“What I would like people to know is that what we’re doing is pretty unique in our region,” Hefferan said. “This grant is a big deal, but beyond that, the relationships we’re developing with the people that can help our kids long-term is worth even more than that.”

The program’s last big high school competition of the year, the league championships, will be held at Clarion University on Friday, February 22. Every participating school will be in attendance as well as private sector partners and representatives of Carnegie Mellon and Clarion University.


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