Robotics team advocates for state-wide funding bill at the Indiana State House


Photo Contributed

Senior Mitul Patel, senior Jacob Thornton and sophomore Natalie Holverson demo one of their robots at the Indiana State House.

Amanda Zheng and Allison Erickson

Through the lenses of safety glasses, Robotics team members observe their robot gliding across the workshop floor. The clanking of metal, humming of motors and shouting voices are heard all around the room as everyone is working toward one goal. 

While the robotics scene at a Center Grove Robotics team meeting is invigorating and bustling, other schools’ robotics programs typically don’t fare as well — or exist at all. 

A new proposed Indiana House of Representatives bill, Bill 1382, has been proposed to allocate adequate funding through grants to schools grades K-12 for robotics-related expenses and to start these robust STEM programs across the state. 

House Bill 1382 will allow schools in Indiana to apply for grants and use the money on initial fees for robotics or materials needed to sustain a robotics program. Sophomore Abi Fain, the Awards Lead on the Robotics team, knows that this bill could provide more opportunities to students across the state who share her interest in robotics and engineering. 

“Robotics, especially through the competition programs, provides a lot of awesome learning experiences for kids. It is more than just the engineering side of it. There’s a lot of soft skills you can learn there,” Fain said. “By getting more funding it’ll be more able to get more students involved, which will be really awesome because we can make a bigger impact throughout the community.”

Advocacy Chair Gillian Styers-Barnett says that her experience in Robotics has made not only a community impact, but also a personal impact on her own life. Styers-Barnett hopes to share the impact robotics has had on her with other students in the state. 

““I’ve been in this robotics program since middle school, and I’ve seen how beneficial it can be with how it teaches technological skills and also teaches you business skills, sometimes even art skills,” Styers-Barnett said. “And I don’t think that the financial burden should get in the way of students being able to get that kind of experience. I went to Worlds last year, and it was an amazing experience. You get to talk with different teams from around the world, and even though we might speak different languages or come from different places, we all speak one language with robotics because we all understand it.”

Across the state of Indiana, many schools lack the funding to make their own robotics programs. Center Grove, being one of the better-funded robotics programs, seeks to help other schools in need. 

“A lot of schools aren’t able to get their team started because they don’t have enough space or the required aspects you need to have a team,” Fain said. “So having more funding helps to better establish teams and get more students involved. Our school is really lucky because we have a really well-supported robotics team. But having more funding will help start our middle school and elementary school teams because they’ve been struggling to get established.”

House Bill 1382’s author State Representative Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, stated that currently, only about 30% of school corporations in Indiana have robotics teams. The bill aims to bring that number to around 60%. The Center Grove team went before the House Education Committee, citing reasons robotic programs are important and how they enrich the lives of students through STEM education and participation. 

“We demoed at the Indiana Statehouse,” Fain said. “We have done it twice in the past three years. This past year, we went and talked to state legislators and representatives. We also met with the Secretary of Education and kind of showed him our robots from last year and a couple years before that. We told him about our program, and why we are so important, and why the bill should be passed.”

When talking to state legislators, students on the team were hopeful that the bill could be passed. After working at it for many years, the Robotics team has not lost any motivation, and they keep pushing for the bill’s success.

“I am hopeful that we will be successful in passing the bill,” Styers-Barnett said. “When we passed a resolution in early 2020, my freshman year, and when there was a demonstration to the representatives, they all showed a lot of excitement about it, so I am hopeful they will be very supportive. Plus they also have been wanting to make changes to other similar educational programs, so I am hoping that this will be part of that push to change and help support education.”

Motivations to get the bill passed differs from member to member, but they share the same goal. Fain says that the personal impact of robotics has driven her to push forward with the process, as it has already passed through the Committee and now needs to be read over by the Governor. 

“The passion and drive to get the bill passed is different for every student, but for me personally, I know how much robotics has made an impact on my life and my sister, too,” Fain said. “For me I have wanted to do everything I can to get the bill passed because it can make a huge impact on somebody’s else’s life, the way it has mine by letting them join teams and grow their passion for robotics.”

House Bill 1382 recently passed out of the Indiana Senate along with amendments with a 45-3 approval vote. The bill and the amendments made to it are currently being deliberated by the Indiana House of Representatives and its advisors.