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City robotics center aims to spark interest in STEM careers

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The TechPoint Foundation for Youth is seeking corporate support to launch a robotics-themed center to pique K-12 students' interest in careers involving science, technology, engineering and math.

Robotics competitions would be the flagship of the program to be located in a center that would be open year-round, although other hands-on activities also are contemplated.

The program would allow students to work in teams and hone skills such as writing software or learning the engineering fundamentals needed to build robots. 

“We need a building,” said Marvin E. Bailey, president of Harrison College’s northwest-side campus and chairman of the TechPoint Foundation for Youth.

Ideally, the facility would be in or near downtown to ensure easy access, particularly for underprivileged students in the urban area.

The building needs to have at least 8,000 square feet of space, with the capacity to house a machine shop and “large collaborative spaces for students to gather,” according to a request for proposals the foundation issued.

“We’re going to need to drop some computer labs in there” as well, Bailey said.

TechPoint’s so-called STEM Collaboratory already has picked up some initial funding, including a gift of $106,000 from the Interactive Intelligence Foundation, created by Indianapolis-based call center software maker Interactive Intelligence.

Bailey also was thrilled to receive a $100,000 donation from an individual donor during a recent breakfast meeting.

IUPUI has committed to providing students to work as mentors at the center, while Ivy Tech Community College has agreed to help manage it. 

The TechPoint Foundation was created 11 years ago by some of the city’s top technology leaders. It has worked on a variety of fronts since then, including a collaboration four years ago with Indianapolis Public Schools on the creation of New Tech High, at Arsenal Technical High School.

More recently, the foundation has been backing IndianaFirst, an initiative for robotics education. That program assembles student teams that must build robots in 45 days from scratch–instilling technical and project-management skills.

The new STEM Collaboratory initiative, which is built around the robotics theme, was modeled on other successful programs such as the Michigan Engineering Zone, a partnership between Detroit Public Schools and the University of Michigan.

The Indianapolis program was spun out of broader discussions with IndianaFirst, the city of Indianapolis, IUPUI’s School of Science and Engineering, Ivy Tech Community College, Interactive Intelligence Foundation and The Indianapolis Foundation.

“We are looking for community partners interested in removing the obstacles that prevent underserved populations from accessing quality [science, technology, engineering and math] programs,” the TechPoint Foundation’s RFP states.

“Robotics teams are an innovative, effective way that schools across the country have begun to engage students in learning and applying STEM skills,” Mayor Greg Ballard said in a statement.

The city will host the inaugural Indianapolis Robotics Championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Jan. 19-20. Invitations were sent to all high schools in Marion County.

That event will provide a taste of the kind of year-round robotics programs TechPoint Foundation envisions for the center, which Bailey wants to see open by fall of next year.

His pitch to the business community is that such a program to boost STEM skills has a practical potential payoff to tech businesses constantly kvetching about the lack of skilled graduates available locally for hire.

“Jobs exist out there in the STEM world, but we just don’t have a supply of students out there interested in STEM careers,” Bailey said.

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  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.

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