Educational robotics increases interest in and future pursuit of STEM (science, technology, education, and math) careers, especially for low-income and minority students. Having competed for seven years on robotics teams, I sought to mentor robotics programs in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) as a first-year Tulane student. Upon researching local programs, I was shocked by the dearth of robotics in NOLA public schools—only 5 out of 51 K-8 NOLA public schools have robotics programs. What caused this disparity, and who knew about it? I contacted local teachers and principals. I found that despite an education overhaul after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, NOLA still has one of the highest rates of D and F-grade schools in a state ranked near the bottom of national education statistics. NOLA schools struggle to reach academic benchmarks—how can they be expected to organize STEM enrichment like robotics? 

I had discovered years before from personal experience that retiring robotics teams often discarded their educational robotics kits. Could saving these kits address the lack of robotics in NOLA schools, while preventing used but functional education resources from going to the landfill? I wanted to find out, so I solicited donations of robotics online that were shipped to New Orleans, beginning what would become RoboRecovery, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. 

As I delved deeper, I realized that collecting kits was not the full solution. Nearly a third of NOLA teachers quit annually. How can a school robotics program run if the facilitating teacher will leave in just months? How could we maneuver around this? A mentor recommended me to enroll in the 4.0 Schools Essentials Fellowship, a nonprofit accelerator for educational equity ventures. After a business model bootcamp, interviews with community members, and a funded pilot model, I launched an all-inclusive, afterschool robotics program, where Tulane students fulfilling their public service graduation requirement would mentor local K-12 students with our donated robotics kits. 

Since then, I have repurposed $40,000+ worth of donated robotics equipment from 16 states to facilitate after-school programming for 500+ local students. 93% of these students identify Black or Hispanic, and over 70% are on free and reduced lunch. Based on student surveys, participants report increased confidence in coding skills by 83%, knowledge of robots by 40%, knowledge of the engineering design process by 61%, interest in becoming future engineers by 34%, and interest in attending college by 12%. I have led 45 Tulane students in credit-bearing public service internships and paid part-time positions. I have also been recognized in a local newspaper’s “40 under 40” list.  

RoboRecovery’s work is far from done. We are launching more programs to build sustainable, locally driven models for change, such as teacher professional development workshops and a revenue-generating program supported by NOLA private schools. I also have also raised over $30,000 in philanthropic grants to keep investing in pilot programs and keep RoboRecovery running for years beyond my graduation. 

RoboRecovery operates from a leased space in the STEM Library Lab, a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides Greater New Orleans teachers with science education equipment and opportunities. 

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