WCU – PEARO
AWARD YEAR: 2019
WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY
DIRECTOR: PAUL YANIK - PYANIKE@WCU.EDU
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY
PROJECT TITLE: PEARO: PROVIDING EQUITABLE ACCESS TO ROBOTICS OPPORTUNITIES
Guided by the goals of Western Carolina University’s (WCU’s) strategic plan, 2020 Vision, the proposed program aims to (1) fulfill the educational needs of the State and region, and promote regional, economic and community development, (2) engage with external partners to facilitate community leadership initiatives for development, and (3) support realization of experience-based learning. Toward these ends, the proposed program titled PEARO: Providing Equitable Access to Robotics Opportunities will be a collaboration between WCU and FIRST North Carolina to recruit, train, and support high school students and their adult mentors in forming FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams. The program will target schools in North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties including Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Transylvania, as well as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) nation.
FIRST North Carolina holds a four-event annual FRC competition season at sites across the state, plus a state championship event. PEARO will facilitate the formation of seven competition teams over its three-year duration (3, 2, and 2 teams per year, respectively). Through the program, WCU and FIRST will recruit and host teams and their adult mentors at Saturday Institutes to be held in the facilities of WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology. Each Institute will consist of four Saturdays across September and October.
During the Institute, teams will receive instruction in robot design and fabrication, basic electrical theory (wiring for motors, sensors, and controls), programming, and project management. Teams will be instructed by WCU faculty with assistance from WCU Graduate Assistants, and veteran FRC participants. Rookie teams participating in an Institute will return during the subsequent year of PEARO to pass on their learning to newly recruited rookie teams. PEARO will provide financial support for the Saturday Institutes, startup materials and tools for all teams, stipends for adult mentors, travel to FIRSTcompetitions, and event registrations.
PEARO will provide a proven platform for students in underserved high schools to develop competencies in STEM topics, an appreciation for the practical applications of their new knowledge, and confidence in professional skill areas including leadership and problem solving. Through the process, they will gain a vision of their future as university students who become STEM professionals, all while having fun and working as a team.