Baltimore high school students will compete in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, robotics competition this Saturday against 20 other teams in the DMV region.
The whole event will be streamed live on the FIRST Chesapeake Twitch channel.
The local student competitors are part of the Baltimore Bolts, an afterschool robotics club in which youth from Baltimore city high schools build and program 145-pound and five feet-tall robots to compete in field game competitions. These types of STEM activities bridge the tech divide and act as a pipeline into an industry that struggles with internal equity and diversity. As Wired reported in 2019, saw, between 2014 and 2019, the number of U.S. technical employees who are Black or Latinx rose by less than a percentage point at Google and Microsoft between 2014 and 2019. Even in Baltimore, a city whose population is nearly 63% Black, only 7% of local tech workers at 19 member organizations of local tech coalition Baltimore Tracks identified as Black.
“There’s too much in the news about how the youth have no trajectory,” Jayesh Jariwala, the Baltimore Bolts’ lead mentor and board president, told Technical.ly. “You come to one of these competitions and you’ll know we’ve got all the opportunity and promise for the future right here.”
At these competitions, two teams of three students take their industrial-size robots to play a game on a field. Students have to use both engineering and collaborative skills when they meet a random team for the first time and have to formulate plans to solve objectives. The Bolts are meeting four times a week after school to prepare their robots for the competition.
This year’s team features five students from Baltimore Polytechnic, Baltimore City College and Northeast High School, the last of which is in Baltimore County. Students can still join — even now, in the midst of the current FIRST robotics competition season, from January to the end of April. Joining the team is free of charge for students. The club is a nonprofit organization, and sponsors like Baltimore-based robotics company Galen Robotics fund the robots, fees and space needed to make the program happen.
“Like any sports team, [students] have to commit to being part of our team,” Jariwala said. “It’s a little bit of that activation energy. It’s not like you go down stairs to that robotics team after school. You’ve got to somehow get to where we are.”
Currently, the Baltimore Bolts are meeting in Pigtown at 1100 Wicomico Street. Those interested in Saturday’s competition can catch the livestream on the FIRST Chesapeake Twitch channel.Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
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