As college basketball teams advanced to the final four of the NCAA tournament, business owners and college and high school students from the Baltimore region arrived at the Baltimore City Robotics Center during a mild, late-March hailstorm for a different sort of March Madness competition.
RoboCEO pitted owners of local technology companies and financial services businesses — including Todd Marks, founder of Mindgrub Technologies, Tom Loveland of Mind Over Machines and Jan Baum, director of 3D Maryland — against one another as drivers of robots designed and built by eight area schools’ VEX Robotics teams.
Students acted as co-pilots, coaching the CEOs through basic commands of driving robots around a 12-foot-by-12-foot playing field and demonstrating the unique capabilities of their robots to pick up balls scattered around the field. (The robots were playing Toss Up, the 2013-2014 game all VEX Robotics teams across the U.S. and around the world play to qualify for the VEX Robotics World Championship later this month.)
According to Ed Mullin, founder and director of the Baltimore City Robotics Center in Hollins Market, the point of the competition was less about raising funds for the center and more about introducing students from such schools as Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Dunbar High School, Western High School and UMBC to business owners interested in hiring summer interns.
“Part of white privilege is having the privilege to meet people who can give you summer jobs,” Mullin said. “[We] picked executives that had the potential to give internships.”
It’s that same spirit that motivated January’s Blacks in Tech Gala at the center: a desire to use the robotics center — which is currently in the middle of an 18-month trial period and occupies space inside a building owned by the Abell Foundation — as not only an after-school and weekend practice space for Baltimore city schools’ robotics teams, but also as a hub to connect promising students with careers in STEM fields.
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