TVA “Amps Up” Valley Robotics Programs

The 2016-17 robotics season for students across the U.S. is on! We caught up with Gail Rymer, TVA director of public and community relations, to find out why TVA-sponsored robotics programs are successful.

Cheers and loud music fill the air as a robot shoots basketball after basketball through a tall hoop.

High-energy scenes like this are happening at schools across the Tennessee Valley this month as local elementary, middle and high school teams kick off the 2016-17 robotics season.

For the last 15 years, TVA has sponsored robotics as a fun way to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers in Valley schools.

Today, TVA’s support for robotics extends to over 500 schools and reaches over 10,000 students across the Valley. Last year the company sponsored over 40 robotics competitions. Several TVA Valley robotics teams went on to represent their schools at national robotics competitions.  

We sat down with Gail Rymer, TVA director of public and community relations, to find out about TVA’s robotics program.

Why is robotics a major TVA Community Relations focus?

Gail RymerSTEM skills are in great demand right now and will likely continue to be so in the coming years, so this is a smart investment in our students’ future. A recent study by the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce showed that 80 percent of future jobs in the Valley will need a college degree or some type of technical certification. So the question is this: how do we apply the TVA mission of service to help prepare the children of the Valley for these careers?

We’re seeing that robotics is one of the best ways to inspire these young minds and get them excited about science, technology, engineering and math. Robotics programs engage students across race, gender and socioeconomic lines, and they play a positive role in motivating them to do better in school.

So, through robotics we’re helping to build the workforce of the future…one robot at a time.

What’s the secret to building a successful robotics program?

Slow and steady wins the race. We started with one school in Chattanooga and after 15 years we’re now in over 500 schools across the Valley. We’ve spent years developing the relationships with the schools, teachers, coaches and community leaders. We demonstrate to them that TVA is committed to the long-term success of the students and is willing to invest the time and resources to help them succeed.

What academic results have you had with your robotics program?

While we had qualitative data from parents and teachers on student achievement, we knew we needed quantitative data to back up what we are seeing. The Hamilton County School District in Chattanooga, studied students this year and found that those who participated in robotics programs display significant academic improvement—as much as a 30% difference—in Tennessee state math, science and language arts test scores versus students who did not participate in robotics.

How do you take your robotics program to the next level?

We’re getting help from our local power company partners to support teams in their local communities. During Public Power Week in October, six local power companies (LPCs) hosted robotics demonstrations for about 330 local area robotics students from 47 local schools. Next year we want more LPCs to take part because we think the demonstrations will help motivate even more students to participate.

Right now we have several LPCs on board. Tullahoma Utilities Board played a key part in the Tennessee LEGO Robotics competition last December. Memphis Light Gas and Water (MLGW) works with the University of Memphis in its assistance with local competitions. Likewise, Chattanooga’s local power company EPB built a robotics center where local area teams can test their robots before completion.

By getting our local power companies and other community businesses involved we can take our program to the next level.      

What do you say to other companies who want to support robotics?

Get involved. Get active. Start by supporting one team. Chances are an employee in your organization has a child on a robotics team. Start there. If you are in the TVA service area, reach out to us. We can connect you with a local school.

Let’s face it, robots are fun for the young and old. In fact, as your employees volunteer they will spread the word. You will see your program growing organically.

How You Can Help

Contact your local school to see if you can volunteer to help their robotics program. If you are in the TVA service area and need information on our robotics sponsorship program, contact TVA project manager and robotics event coordinator Charley Spencer at cwspencer@tva.gov to learn more.