By Lynzee Mychael
Robotics is a thrilling skill that has seen rapid growth in the technology sector. As tech needs continue to rise, more industries are urgently looking for a trained workforce and our youth are being groomed to respond.
Leon Pryor, co-founder of the Motor City Alliance (MCA), an organization devoted to supporting STEM education, has proudly taken on the responsibility as one of the leading coaches and contributors to the impressive robotics programs in the city of Detroit for students from 3rd to 12th grade. Pryor, an experienced robotics coach, originally joined his son’s team as an advisor when, as an observer, he noticed fundamental issues threatening the team’s chance at winning a competition.
With a passion for teaching and a love for science and technology, Pryor became a permanent and intricate part of the advancement and ultimate success of the team assisting with design, planning and understanding of components and approach to building functional robots. Using his experience as an engineer he was able to elevate the students’ problem-solving skills and prepare them to compete with confidence.
“Robotics is a situation where we give students the problem, and you don’t give them sufficient time and resources to solve that problem. That’s done on purpose,” said Pryor. “They have six weeks to complete a robotics challenge. This is typically not enough time for children to build industrial robots. The idea is to see what they come up with and how they rise to the challenge.”
Last year all of the hard work and information Pryor poured into his team paid off as the FLICS Techno Phoenix team were crowned State Champions in robotics at the middle school level. Unfortunately, the city of Detroit has yet to recognize the accomplishments and innovations of these robotics teams on a high level. Pryor hopes to continue supporting efforts that will allow for more partnerships, exposure and aid that will bring more students and advisors to help compete and learn.
“We like to say robotics is the sport that allows everybody to go. You can’t say that about anything else. The chances of becoming a division one basketball player are 0.5 percent. Whereas in robotics we can make all our students professional engineers, especially given that there are roughly $100 million in scholarship funds available to FIRST Robotics graduates.”
FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program holds an annual contest allowing schools to design and build robots. It was during these competitions that Pryor noticed his son’s teams were advancing each year but had not won. He soon realized that a lack of effective collaboration amongst Detroit teams was detrimental – the teams were not working together and developing solutions in concert with each other.
Despite these successes, there are still many challenges facing the development of robotics in Michigan. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of a skilled workforce. With the rapid pace of change in the field of robotics, it can be difficult for even the most qualified workers to keep up with the latest technologies and trends.
To overcome this challenge, the Motor City Alliance is working to promote education and training in the field of robotics. MCA is a non-profit helping connect parents, students and teams to ultimately build a solid force that will spread positive impact throughout the community. Pryor is the co-founder of MCA with the goal of creating a successful and sustainable FIRST ecosystem, in Detroit. MCA promotes collaboration and exchange of knowledge and resources, while preparing students for the next level of their robotics experience.
MCA is looking to get more veterans on the team as soon as possible. Due to the under resourced programs, Pryor wants to increase the number of mentors, ultimately expanding the team’s knowledge and allowing for a better chance to successfully compete and win. These partnerships will also allow MCA to continue offering free programs including its summer camp and training sessions.
“You don’t need to be an engineer to work with the team. We also need help with logistics. Getting students to events and making sure they are fed is often the more difficult problem.”
Pryor and his teams are participating in multiple competitions this year. Young Black boys and girls are creating industrial robots right in our backyard and are asking for support with visibility, resources, expertise and donations. Investing in our children’s future will benefit the rise of Detroit and the improvement of the city’s tech ecosystem.
Those interested in supporting or participating with the MCA are encouraged to visit motorcityalliance.org. Team information, event details and available resources are all posted to their website.