Area tenth-graders to build, test robots as part of program to up participation in Advanced Placement courses

On this Halloween, 75 tenth-graders will spend the day building, programming, and testing robots at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford.

The students, who come from East Hartford, New Britain, and Waterbury schools, are part of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association's (CBIA) Innovative Technology Education for Students and Teachers (ITEST) Project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Now in its third year, the project encourages underrepresented youth to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

"Our goal is for more Connecticut students to enroll and succeed in Advanced Placement STEM courses and to consider pursuing postsecondary STEM coursework and careers," says Judy Resnick, executive director of CBIA's Education Foundation.

"We've found that hands-on, problem-solving activities are some of the best ways to boost young people's readiness and enthusiasm for rigorous STEM subjects."

In fact, numerous studies have found that access to high-quality math and science lessons, combined with mentoring and encouragement to explore science and math-related activities, are key factors that drive interest and achievement in STEM education and careers.

Unfortunately, says Resnick, those incentives and opportunities are frequently scarce for minority and low-income students.

"That's why our ITEST project starts with fun, inquiry-based science and math," she says, "and ensures that students have regular, meaningful interaction with local STEM professionals. We connect them with engineers and biochemists who coach and correspond with them throughout the school year."

ITEST starts with ninth-graders who spend a year team-solving problems posed by four of Connecticut's leading STEM employers: General Electric, Northeast Utilities, Pfizer, and United Technologies Corp. During their freshman "Cyber-Challenge" year, students are introduced to teambuilding strategies and multimedia technologies.

Tenth-grade ITEST participants gain broader exposure to STEM applications in the real world. Their second year in ITEST includes company visits, guest speakers, STEM labs, and other school-to-career activities.

At the Connecticut Science Center this month, for example, they will develop robot sensor systems that prevent the kinds of driver error that cause car accidents. They also will attempt to use mechanical leverage and forces that allow humans to lift heavy objects without relying on muscle power or conventional energy.

"By eleventh grade," says Resnick, "we hope to see these students enrolling in Advanced Placement courses that keep challenging and inspiring them in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math."

To date, more than 400 students have participated in ITEST.

The ITEST grant is administered by CBIA in collaboration with the Connecticut Science Center and EASTCONN (a public, nonprofit agency that has been serving the educational needs of schools, organizations, communities, and individuals in northeastern Connecticut since 1980).

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CBIA is Connecticut's largest business organization, with 10,000 member companies. For more information, please contact Joe Budd (860.244.1951; joe.budd@cbia.com).