Two Edina robotics members speak before senate committee
While proponents of STEM education typical focus on the future, two Edina students showed that robotics grows not only opportunities, but voices.
Junior Harini Josyer and Senior Allison Schwoboda, co-captains of the EHS Robotics Team, were asked to testify Feb. 28 at a Senate committee about the importance of STEM education.
“Although I am not an expert on STEM education, I am in a STEM activity, and I know it has made a huge impact on my life,” Josyer said. “Undeserved communities and populations deserve to have the same opportunities that I’ve been afforded.”
Josyer gave an oral presentation on the importance of STEM in her life, while Schwoboda was at her side for any additional questions from the committee.
Josyer said that STEM has given her opportunities she never imagined she could have in high school.
“I didn’t need a college degree or anything,” Josyer said. “I just needed to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.”
The House bill has support from House District representatives Dario Anselmo (49A-Edina) and Paul Rosenthal (49B-Edina). District 50 Sen. Melisa Franzen is one of the authors of the companion bill in the Senate.
“This bill came from my district and some constituents who are doing some great work on STEM and robotics,” Franzen said during the introduction to the bill in the K-12 committee. “Unfortunately, not all [districts] do, partly because of funding. These programs are currently run, frankly, on a volunteer basis and corporate sponsors and sponsors on a local level.”
Franzen briefly described the bill as an encouragement to the state of Minnesota to allow for funding from the Every Student Succeeds Act to also be used for STEM programs, such as the robotics team in Edina.
The push for STEM funding on a federal level has Minnesota in its DNA, as U.S. Sen. Al Franken has authored amendments allowing for funding for programs like robotics, agreeing that beginning STEM programs at a young age is vital for the future of the United States workforce.
“I was astounded to see these elementary school students working on robots,” Melisa Franzen said. “Here we are, young kids are literally programming and coding at a young age.”
Franzen believed the bill has value, citing the lack of workers in STEM professions, including a 10,000 job shortfall for computer engineers alone in Minnesota.
“It is only going to get bigger and deeper,” Franzen said.
The bill is trying to give resources to young people as an investment toward the state’s entrepreneurial future.
Some of these skills are already under Josyer’s belt thanks to her involvement with team 1816, the Green Machine.
Josyer emphasized that aside from the technological knowledge, they also learn communication, presentation and leadership skills.
“I know STEM has made a huge impact on my life,” Josyer said. “When I was younger, I didn’t talk to anyone ever. Now I have the confidence. Working alongside industry [professionals] gave me a voice. It truly ignited my passion for engaging with other students.”
Josyer shared an experience with assisting a Girl Scout camp last summer that taught young girls how to make Lego robots.
One girl, Gigi, was described as loud, outgoing and energetic, but not very interested in the program. Through Josyer’s mentorship, however, that changed.
“By the end of that week, she was able to make a robot,” Josyer said. “Seeing her progress made me realize what STEM can do for people.”
A few days earlier during the District 49 day, the Edina, Hopkins and Eden Prairie robotics teams held a demonstration of their robots in the Capitol Rotunda, and even let the legislators give them a whirl.
Anselmo said engagement from constituents and young people is important, but in this case also fun.
“It was really cool to see … it was fun to see the kids and other people from the community, including later for the town hall portion of the event,” Anselmo said.
He also said he was really impressed with the students testifying before the state Senate. He was also able to get a photo of Josyer and Schwoboda with Alicia Robinson, a project manager at NASA, who was also testifying at the same time.
“It was really neat to have the younger girls getting to see and meet with her,” Anselmo said. “It was probably the highlight of the Senate bill portion.”
The Green Machine will be going to the World Championships at the end of April in St. Louis, and was also the only team to automatically qualify for state, which will be held May 20 at Williams Arena.
For more information on Edina robotics, visit edinarobotics.com.