By Travis Gibson - During his more than 30 years working as an engineer for NASA, Frank Robinson Jr. remembers meeting after meeting where he was the only person of color sitting at the table. In order to help facilitate the change, Robinson and others launched the STEM2 Hub program in Northeast Florida three years ago. One of the goals of the program is to get more female students and students of color interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM.
Two years ago, STEM2 Hub helped launch the robotics program at the St. Augustine Boys and Girls Club. The club received two LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 Core sets, a robotic LEGO set with a CPU that helps students learn how to program and problem solve.
“We are just trying to get the kids to see there are other things to do than gossip, play on the phone, go in the gym,” said Quentin Forney, leader of the club that currently has about five members. “You can use your mind to figure out how to do stuff and create stuff.”
Once the students build it, they learn to program the Mars-rover-like robot to complete specific missions. Then they take the robot to participate in timed competitions against other robotics teams around the area.
“I love to build. It’s just fun,” said eighth-grader Kailani Russ, a member of the robotics team at the Boys and Girls club. Two weeks ago, Russ helped lead her team to a second-place finish in a Mars-themed competition. She hopes to eventually get a job at NASA, just like Robinson.
Robinson’s inspiration was Dr. Julian Earls, a black man and NASA physicist, who eventually became the director of the NASA Glenn Research Center. Robinson first saw Earls speak at his brother’s graduation when he was 16 years old.