Hawaii school robotics programs get boost

Governor Linda Lingle announced today in her State of the State Address that she has authorized the use of $2,805,200 in federal stimulus funds to enhance robotics education programs in Hawai‘i’s schools. The funds will be provided to the University of Hawai‘i College of Engineering, which will disburse the money to the Friends of Hawai‘i Robotics, a not-for-profit organization formed for the purpose of supporting the Robotics Organizing Committee (ROC) and robotics educational programming in the state of Hawai‘i.

The grant money, $1,097,200 this year and $1,708,000 in the next fiscal year, is designed to help foster robotics education and expand students’ learning of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) throughout their schooling, while preparing them for careers in the global economy.

“Robotics education has become an integral part of our efforts to prepare Hawai‘i students for the global economy,” said Governor Lingle. “While we work to develop an innovation economy with high-technology careers based in Hawai‘i, we must also ensure our state’s workforce is ready for the future opportunities. Robotics students will be among those who develop viable solutions to our local, national and global challenges. They will ensure Hawai‘i stays at the forefront of the global economy.”

The funds will be used to purchase robotics kits and curriculum packages for schools, provide teacher workshops and professional development training as well as cover operating costs of competitive robotics events which occur year-round.

“The robotics programs are truly effective in engaging our youth – our future – in the excitement and wonder of science, technology engineering and math,” said University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. “All of the partners, certainly including highly committed teachers, sponsors, mentors and volunteers, contribute to the success of these programs and such efforts have a positive impact on Hawai‘i’s future. UH-Mānoa is also definitely excited about having the participants as our students in the future.”

The Hawai‘i Robotics Organizing Committee (ROC) was formed last year to bring together the six robotics programs – FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Robotics, Botball, VEX Robotics, Underwater Remote Operating Vehicle and Micro Robotics – which previously operated independently. This is the first time all six of the robotics programs have coordinated their efforts to promote robotics education in elementary, middle and high schools statewide.

Over the past 3 years, student participation in robotics education has grown tremendously. Currently, 182 public, charter and private schools have robotics teams in one or more of the six robotics programs, accounting for 47 percent of Hawai‘i’s schools.

Robotics education is a key component of the Lingle-Aiona Administration’s Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative, which seeks to transform Hawai‘i’s economy from one based on land development to one based on the innovative capacity of Hawai‘i‘s residents, especially our youth.

The $2.8 million funding is being made available to the state under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Part B as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that was passed by Congress last February. Governors have discretion over how to use Part B funds, which for Hawai‘i total approximately $35 million. Governor Lingle has elected to dedicate all of the Part B funds toward public education, with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

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