Every Friday afternoon at Eagle Ridge Middle School, 20 students file into a laboratory classroom for a couple of hours of hands on STEM study—building and programming robots—with the help of a team of Verizon engineers.
The 10-week program is organized by eighth-grade twins Niyati and NiravKottury, who have been the student leaders for the school’s STEM club, the Technology Student Association, for the past two years. Their rookie team made it to TSA Nationals semifinals in the Biotechnology category with a bacteriophage research project.
Last year, the teens established a nonprofit, STEMStart, with the goal of closing the STEM gap. The idea for a robot course came from their participation in a Verizon Innovative Learning event in 2018. Back home, they reached out to Verizon with a proposal requesting that the company provide the sponsorship and volunteers needed to establish the program at Eagle Ridge.
Verizon Executive Director Saivivek Thiyagarajan signed off, agreeing to provide $4,000 to support project and provide volunteers to help run Verizon’s Red and Black Robotics at the Ashburn school. Niyati and Nirav worked with the Verizon team to develop 30 hours of PBASIC training lessons.
During the March 1 session, the students completed the final steps in assembling their $200 robot kits and began uploading programming commands that direct the machines to roll and turn. They’ll have to become proficient in the coding, as the 10-week program will culminate with a robot parade through the school.
Niyati and Nirav hope the Eagle Ridge program can be a model to be offered at other Loudoun schools.