Building the Next Generation of Tech Talent

Mentoring Youth through Robotics 

Can robotics be inspirational? We believe so! Appirio empowers students by helping them develop the tools and skill sets they need to pursue and succeed in their personal and professional lives through robotics.  We want to introduce you to the trailblazers behind our efforts in creating the next generation of tech talent by mentoring youth through the JJ robotics program.  

What is JJ Robotics?  

Jonathan Jennings (JJ) is a Title One elementary school serving K through 6th grade in the metro  Indianapolis area, near Appirio’s corporate headquarters. Their robotics club has been running for several years, and each grade level has its own robotics team. Then, the teams participate in four tournaments at the end of the year with their final, top-notch, the robot builds. We – Yumna Khan, Qahir Lakha, and Anmol Khanna – were mentors that were helping at this robotics program with a group of 3rd – 6th graders from September 2019 to January 2020.  

Why is that mentorship at JJ robotics so important? 

There are more kids in the robotics program than one teacher can handle. With so many different sections for each child, it was great to help even out the student: teacher ratio. 

But, for the kids,  it gives them something to look forward to after school. They are always aiming to move forward and progress within the groups, so, once you get to the 6th-grade level, students are much more advanced and competitive. As they go into middle school, it can feel like a big accomplishment for them to have been a part of team-building robots.  

It was also important to just be a friend to them and make sure they are having fun! There was a time where we just walked in during a meeting, and two of the students just got up and ran to us. It was heartwarming - one of the things we all absolutely loved. We learned about leadership, collaboration, and how to be patient while enjoying the little moments.  We wish we went through that in elementary school.   

How did Appirio get involved in this initiative?   

Jonathan Jennings was a school that we sponsored for the Spirit of Wipro run and we wanted to create a long, lasting, meaningful relationship. So, we asked, how else can we help out? And they came back with a need in their Robotics Club.  

What was one of the ways that best worked for the kids to stay focused?   

Having a set schedule every day for them was a game-changer. In the beginning, there wasn’t really a structure, but once it was laid out on a whiteboard that noted everyone’s tasks, groups, and assignments that made it easier for everyone to stay on track and focused. Everyone knew where to go for scrapbooks, or for coding on computers.  

What are some of the types of activities that take place during the robotics club?  

There was coding on the computers, writing, robot building, and a strategy group. The students earn points during the competition, so throughout our mentorship, we had to teach them how to understand what their goal is and how they can win against competitors.  For example, one of the questions on their sheet was, “what do you want the robot to do?” We can make it turn left, right, go straight, etc, so we worked with them step by step to help them understand the point system and reason behind the questions.  

Did you have a mentor growing up and if so, what was that like?  

Anmol: I was mentored, starting my junior year of high school.  Then, I became a mentor during my senior year and throughout college too.  When I was being mentored, it included my mentors telling me about their experience and sharing resources that I didn’t know about yet, which helped me get a jump start, feel more comfortable, and move forward with more knowledge. And in return, making sure I pass on the information I learned from my mentors, and encouraging others with a “you can do this” and “believe in yourself” attitude.  

Yumna: I have a mentor right now within Appirio, Fahim Falzada. When I started at Appirio, my manager connected me with Fahim to be my mentor. He’s always there for me to be able to ask any questions, or if I wanted to reach out to someone other than my manager. He has so much experience and we can have open and honest conversations. If I'm struggling with something, I'm able to tell him.  Then, this leads back to how it's rewarding with what we're doing with JJ Robotics and seeing how those kids are impacted with our efforts - it just makes me the happiest.   

What was rewarding about this mentorship for you?  

Qahir: I thought what was cool about it is that we got to do something that affected our community but didn't directly affect Appirio. Seeing a company be a part of a program like that was extremely rewarding.  I had a fantastic experience and personally cannot wait for the next season to start. 

What advice can you give to those who are interested in finding a robotics club like this in their area? 

Reach out to your local communities and see what’s available for you to participate in, or even start your own robotics team. We reached out to several school principals via email.  Yumna’s mother works as a teacher at Jonathan Jennings, so she was able to help connect us directly with their principal to make it happen.  If you have connections at schools, try that route too!  

Appirio has allocated $2,000 through #firstbook to meet Jonathan Jennings' needs in this time of crisis. These efforts are supporting Indianapolis kids to help build home libraries, provide ebooks, hygiene kits and more.  

Learn more about our initiative to advance Inclusion in Tech at Appirio


About the Author

Melissa Southard

Melissa Southard is a Go-To-Market Manager at Appirio, leading the marketing strategy for the communications and technology practice. She’s a proud native Texan from Laredo and currently lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and two dogs.

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