Robots Roll at Sixth Annual Rally in the Valley

  • Students in head bands and face paint intently watch a small robot.

    Students intently watch their robot perform at the 2019 Rally in the Valley. Photo courtesy of Susan Belgrad.

  • A student on one knee uses a tablet to control his robot.

    A student controls their robot using a tablet. Photo courtesy of Susan Belgrad.

  • A keynote speaker at a podium in front of a gym packed on the floor and in the bleachers.

    A packed Matadome kicks off the 2019 Rally in the Valley. Photo courtesy of Susan Belgrad.

Friends and family filled the bleachers to the rafters as they watched their students compete at the sixth annual Rally in the Valley at CSUN.

An estimated 400 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students from 20 local elementary schools gathered at the Matadome on May 11 to participate in a series of robotic and engineering challenges co-sponsored by organizations such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Discovery Cube Los Angeles and PP & G Aerospace.

The CSUN STEM Innovations Team, comprised of faculty from the Michael D. Eisner College of Education and College of Engineering and Computer Science, launched the first official Rally in the Valley on campus in 2012. Their mission is to prepare underrepresented minority youth to compete and excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“When you’re in the Matadome and you have families coming to a college campus, it offers them hope that their students will become very successful and productive members of society and the workforce,” said Susan Belgrad, professor of elementary education and leader of the CSUN STEM Innovations Team.

JPL donated funds to supply participating students with LEGO Mindstorm robotics kits to design, build and program their robots for the competition, which included an obstacle course, “Follow the Line” challenge and sumo matches — where the “wrestlers” are LEGO robots. 

In 2016, in addition to the robotics and engineering challenges, organizers incorporated a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) Expo, to teach students how engineering and computer science play a vital role in our daily lives.

In accordance to this year’s expo theme, “Fires, A Burning Issue, ” CSUN organizers encouraged students to address California fire prevention and response by discussing how robotics play a crucial role in the planet’s preservation.

“We are interested in the students understanding the science of technology beyond robotics and how they add value to human life,” Belgrad said. “We are assuring that children understand that they will be contributing worldwide to solving issues such as global warming.”

Special guests attended Rally in the Valley to support and congratulate the students, including California Assemblywoman Luz Rivas and Los Angeles City Council members Bob Blumenfield and Greig Smith.

“We want to encourage [students] to see themselves as academically successful in STEM subjects before they reach middle school,” Belgrad said. “We truly believe it is important to inspire students and their families.”

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