Nonprofit promotes STEM careers

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

For the Rhode Island School of the Future, instilling values like persistence and teamwork in students through robotics competitions is more important than contest-winning technology tricks. More

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Focus: TECHNOLOGY

Nonprofit promotes STEM careers

PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL PERSSON
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: The Rhode Island School of the Future pushes robotics as means to develop both soft skills and those relevant to the engineering field. Above, Julia Smith of Cranston referees at the FIRST Lego League robotics tournament at Roger Williams University on Jan. 11.

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 2/3/14

For the Rhode Island School of the Future, instilling values like persistence and teamwork in students through robotics competitions is more important than contest-winning technology tricks.

The educational technology and science principles promoted through the Warwick-based nonprofit are “more about what they learn than what they win,” said Executive Director Mary Johnson.

Despite the altruism inherent in that goal, the nonprofit that incorporated in April 2013 wants to be able to demonstrate that its efforts in promoting technology education lead to higher learning and careers in science, technology, engineering and math, so that it can win grants to support programming that, by itself, is not financially self-sustaining, Johnson said.

To that end, the all-volunteer nonprofit has just added a new member with expertise in data and impact studies to its board of directors, Johnson said, though implementing a methodology is still a couple of years away.

“We are in the middle of a strategic planning process, and plan to write a Rhode Island Foundation grant to bring in a consultant to help us create a data collection and tracking system that will allow us to better gauge the impact our programs have on kids in Rhode Island,” Johnson said.

The Rhode Island School of the Future’s mission is to inspire youth to become science and technology leaders by involving them in mentor-based programs that build STEM skills. But self-confidence, communication and leadership are just as important, Johnson said. The programs the nonprofit runs are the Robot Block Party (formerly Robotics Park), FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League and Jr. FIRST Lego League.

At the 13th annual FIRST Lego League Rhode Island Robotics Tournament, sponsored by Rhode Island School of the Future and National Grid and held at Roger Williams University on Jan. 11, Julia Smith, 18, of Cranston, helped referee some of the contests. She participated in the league for several years and is now a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.

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