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Grant creates robotics pipeline for K-12 students

Auburn University’s Southeastern Center of Robotics Education (SCORE), Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) and Autauga County Schools (ACS) Board of Education are collaborating to increase robotics in schools.

“After the success with Montgomery Public Schools, I am excited to see this program expand into Autauga County,” said Mary Lou Ewald, director of Outreach in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM). “We are creating a very unique robotics pipeline that will directly impact all students in Kindergarten through 12th grade.”

HMMA presented a check for $114,750 to expand its Hyundai Initiative for Robotics Excellence (HIRE) program into ACS in the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years.

“Every day, COSAM is aiming to create bold opportunities to educate and excite students about STEM fields,” said Edward Thomas Jr., COSAM’s Dean. “The expanded HIRE program is going to give students a chance to develop these critical thinking skills from an early age and apply them throughout their education. This pipeline not only benefits the students with well-paying career opportunities, but the entire state of Alabama.”

These opportunities will first begin with students in middle school ages.

“In the two-year roll-out, we will be working first with students and teachers in grades five through eight,” said Ewald.

Schools will receive VEX classroom robotics kits and training for teachers through SCORE.

“The program also will help train teachers, so they are comfortable showing students how to build robots and code in the classroom inspiring them to try more new education technologies in the future,” Ewald added.

Then, the program will continue to expand to offer younger and older students a chance to increase their STEM skills in ACS.

“In year two, we will work with students in Kindergarten through second as well as high school students,” she said.

In the original donation, HMMA established robotic teams at 10 public middle schools in Montgomery. Then, HMMA expanded to Montgomery’s public high schools and sponsored the SCORE Showdown event totaling more than $363,000 donated to robotics education since 2020.

“Learning how to code and build robots provides students with opportunities that they can apply in the workforce,” said Ewald. “They build confidence and self-efficacy through hands-on learning with robotics.”

Students become prepared to work in groups and face challenges.

“You see students develop leadership skills in a team-based environment that will directly benefit them in the workplace,” she added.

They also gain experience documenting and tracking changes to their robots.

“Students also improve upon their writing skills and literacy,” she added. “They have to keep an engineering design notebook, which includes critical information explaining their choices about the physical manipulation of their robots such as gears and motors as well as coding.”

The expansion of this program is providing a change at the student-level.

“We have a goal to make full-scale changes to the STEM culture in the state of Alabama,” said Ewald, who is a member of the Alabama STEM Council. “We want to give all students the change to learn more about coding and robotics, so they have more opportunities for rewarding careers in our state upon graduation.”


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