Today, only ~3% of jobs in New Orleans are in tech fields. It is critical for New Orleans to grow its tech industry to thrive in the 21st century economy.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) enrichment programs, such as educational robotics, expose students to technology and engineering through hands-on, informal learning, developing passions they may later turn into careers.
However, most New Orleans charter schools cannot provide such programs for their students, a problem seen across the state. While 75% of Louisiana parents agree that after-school programs are important to help children gain skills and interest in STEM, there is still a lack of after-school programs relative to their high demand. For every child in a Louisiana after-school program, 4 are waiting to get in.
TECH JOBS IN NEW ORLEANS
OF LA STUDENTS QUALIFY FOR COLLEGE MATH & SCIENCE COURSEWORK
These access issues slash their chances to pursue science and engineering outside of class and in their future careers, which reflects statewide education statistics. While 51% of Louisiana students express interest in STEM fields, only 10% of these students meet benchmarks for college math and science coursework.
Out of the 70 NOLA charter schools serving 4th-8th grade, only 6 have robotics programs. New Orleans has about 25-50% of robotics programs per student compared to other major cities like Atlanta and Dallas.
This is not only problematic for the city’s talent pool, but also for diversity in STEM. 92% of students in New Orleans charter schools identify as African American or Hispanic. As of 2015, African American and Hispanic men and women comprised only about 10% of science and engineering occupations despite accounting for 20% of the US population.
For New Orleans youth, socioeconomic and racial marginalization continues to compound into marginalization in STEM education.
How RoboRecovery was Founded & Our History
During his freshman year at Tulane University, William Bai found that he needed to complete a public service internship to graduate. While looking for opportunities to complete this requirement, he discovered the lack of after-school STEM enrichment across New Orleans charter schools, especially in robotics. This realization was incredibly frustrating to him. But having been involved in the educational robotics sphere for seven years in middle and high school, competing in robotics tournaments as well as teaching summer robotics camps and free robotics classes at public libraries, he felt that he could use his skills to do something. In April 2021, he started soliciting donations of robotics equipment online, hoping to give them to local schools, starting what would later become RoboRecovery.
In the 2021-2022 school year, RoboRecovery ran its first pilot programs, free after-school robotics programs in three schools and one after-school club.
In the summer of 2022, we loaned our robotics equipment to Wake Forest University to help them start a pre-college robotics summer program.
In the 2022-2023 school year, we ran free after-school programs at four schools and two after-school clubs. We also launched INTRO, our in-school robotics program, in six local charter schools.
We started as a project to recover robotics kits from teams and communities across the United States through donations shipped to our facility in Metairie, LA. As we have developed our programs around the needs of the schools and youth we work with, our focus has shifted to creating robotics programs in New Orleans using these “recovered” robots. Nonetheless, we continue to collect used LEGO Mindstorms kits and parts to supply our programs.