Public Policy, Robotics and Solving the STEM Teacher Challenge

By Michael Pearson

If given just one word to describe the robotics team mentored by School of Public Policy graduate student Ed Barker, you wouldn’t go wrong choosing “winner.” After all, Barker’s Kell Robotics team is just one of 29 teams inducted into the FIRST Robotics Competition Hall of Fame, and serves as a role model to the 61,000 teams worldwide.

But for all the circuits and pneumatics and flashing lights, Kell Robotics is more than just a robot factory. Under the tutelage of Barker — a self-professed student of “challenging, seemingly impossible problems” — it’s become something of a public policy powerhouse, too. This team grounded in science has made an art of pressing Georgia leaders to adopt solutions to a desperate shortage of secondary-level teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The students involved in Kell Robotics — including two incoming Georgia Tech engineering students — have logged hundreds of interactions with state lawmakers, policymakers, corporate leaders, educational groups, and others over the last 15 years. In all, that’s hundreds of hours advocating for programs to help turn out thousands of desperately needed STEM teachers for Georgia middle and high schools.

“Public policy doesn’t change overnight,” said Danielle Newman, who is now a first-year mechanical engineering student. “Through FIRST, we try to speed up the process by letting students tell their stories.”

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  • School of Public Policy Graduate Student Ed Barker

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