Canada’s first Black Youth Robotics Team enters FIRST Robotics Competition



Since the implementation of the internet, many avenues for technological advancement have been opened, allowing for ideas that were once a figment of our imagination to become reality.

The next generation of inventors are students and young people who are growing up in a time where new and innovative technology is the social norm. While doctors and lawyers are still professions that will require attention, equally important to the advancement of society are the scientists, and engineers of the next generation.

In working to inspire the next generation to tackle this order of business, The African Canadian Christian Network (ACCN) has partnered with FIRST Robotics Canada (FRC) and Microsoft to launch Canada’s first black youth community robotics team. The team will enter the 2018 FIRST Robotics international competition this spring.

ACCN is a registered charity comprised of a network of black churches and allies with a social justice agenda, working together with communities, governments, industry, and institutions to improve life outcomes for black youth and their families.

“We’ve been working largely with kids in education to ensure they have the education they need to get where they want to be, to be the best they can be,” Cherryl Lewis Executive Director of ACCN explains.

“Black kids are not normally at the STEM table, they aren’t exposed to STEM careers or courses, so we felt it was important for us to get them there and one way to do that was through the robotics program,” Lewis says.

ACCN created TECHTRONIX to nurture black youth success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers and is an outgrowth of its highly successful placement of over 100 talented black youth in top independent schools over the past ten years. They have amassed more than $18 million in scholarships and financial aid to further their education all of the students have been performing well.

NASA announced the FIRST 2018 Build Challenge on January 6th, giving teams around the world six intensive weeks to build their robot. The ACCN TECHTRONIX team is made up of 25 youth in Grades 9 to 12 from within the community across the GTA such as the Peel, Durham, Toronto, and Halton Regions.

“The kids involved were excited about the prospect of being able to build a robot, something that moves,” Lewis shares. “The program curriculum includes learning Javascript, working with algorithms, using solid modelling computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering computer programs as well as cutting metal and working with machinery to help build their robot.”

The students have gained many skills working on the robot build including how to brainstorm designs and working concepts to ensure their robot will score the highest on competition day.

Under strict rules, limited resources and time limits, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program ROBOTS to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. They will be taking part in two competitions one at York University and another at Ryerson University where their skills will be put to the test in “real-world” engineering.

“In addition to the technical skills they’ve learned, these children are also utilizing and practicing social skills like communication, cooperation, and collaboration,” Lewis shares. “They are creating presentations adding on to what they already know, and we have seen an amazing transformation in the lives of some of the young people we have been working with”

Ryerson University has generously donated a place for TECHTRONIX to build and house their robot. They have also rallied together a dynamic team of Ryerson professors, engineering and design students who are donating their time and talent to teach and mentor the youth through the building process.

In 2018, FIRST Robotics Competition will reach 90,000 high-school students representing more than 3,600 teams. Teams come from nearly every state in the United States, as well as many other countries. FIRST Robotics Competition teams will participate in 63 Regional Competitions, 85 District Competitions, and 10 District Championships. In addition, approximately 800 teams will qualify to go to one of the two FIRST Championships at the end of April 2018.

With up to 20 hours of build time over some weeks, the TECHTRONIX program has seen many positive changes in attitudes towards STEM-related programs. Parents and teachers have noted how exposure to this process has garnered interest and sparked a passion for these students to potentially pursue careers in the fields of Science and Engineering. 

“The kids have really embraced this opportunity, unable to take part in something like this at their schools,” Lewis says. “It has opened their minds to different possibilities, exploring their options and allowing them to see just how fun something like this can be.”

Through TECHTRONIX students are able to dabble in a hands-on experience in the field where they can discover just how exciting a potential career in the STEM field can be.

“Many people are unaware of this initiative, and this is our attempt to entice students from our community to get involved,” explains ACCN Board Chair, Alvin Nicholson. “Students who have been a part of this program have been given the option to change their minds from becoming lawyers to deciding to make a career in engineering instead.”

The public is invited to support this historic initiative by making a donation. They have launched a sponsorship drive through GoFundMe and Canada Helps campaigns to cover expenses such as additional parts still required for the build; competitions; uniforms; transportation and refreshments for the hard-working boys and girls involved. They invite the community to foster this incredible journey of growth and discovery. Your generosity will enable these hard-working boys and girls to compete with pride while benefiting from a life-changing experience.

The FIRST® Robotics initiative supports a broader population of youth to take their place at the STEM table. Together we can make a difference in the lives of these young people!


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