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Robotics Education Nonprofit To Expand Footprint In PA

Best Robotics
A student demonstrates an agricultural robot during a Best Robotics competition in 2016.

The national robotics education nonprofit Best Robotics is moving its headquarters to Pittsburgh.

Thousands of students participate in Best Robotics competitions annually, spending six weeks building robots with real world potential.

“Every year there's an industry theme for the competition,” said executive director Rosemary Mendel. “Last year, it was agriculture; this year, it's fire and rescue.”

The idea is to train the future tech workforce and get more kids excited about pursuing careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Best Robotics executive director Rosemary Mendel.

Best Robotics was founded in Texas in 1993 and has since spread to 17 states so far. Since then, the organization has manned "virtual headquarters," said Mendel, but the two Pittsburgh-based employees – Mendel and Director of Strategic Engagement Deb Elliott – are currently looking for a co-working space in the city.

In total, Best Robotics has just five full-time staff members and more than 5,000 volunteers across the country.

Nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities partner with the program to create local “hubs,” which bring the curriculum to middle and high school students for free.

Mendel said that approach improves accessibility for under-represented groups.

“Our national demographics run ahead of what you normally see in the participation of minorities, rural and urban students. We also run higher on the participation of girls,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s two hubs are located at Grove City College and Penn State DuBois, but Mendel said she hopes to expand the program’s footprint in the state.

She said she even envisions a regional competition based in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania students currently have to travel to Fargo, N.D. for regional competitions.

“Pittsburgh is the technology city of the future,” Mendel said. “It just made sense to align ourselves in a community that has the same goals that we do.”

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.