Maui Business

MEDB Fund Power Robotics, STEM Careers in Maui County

January 26, 2017, 2:38 PM HST
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The robotics phenom is spreading nationwide and students throughout Maui County are getting a dose of the “hardest fun” they’ve ever had.

Maui Economic Development Board is supporting robotics in Hawaiʻi as part of its commitment to empowering youth with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills for future careers.

For over fifteen years, MEDB with the support of numerous community stakeholders has been empowering students in Maui County and statewide through multiple STEM education programs like its MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund, a grant program that encourages pathways to STEM careers. Two of the popular educational programs supported by the Fund are VEX and FIRST Robotics.

VEX Robotics is an international program that offers intermediate and high school students the experience of solving real-world problems by applying STEM skills. MEDB was one of the first and continues to be a major funder of VEX robotics in Hawaiʻi.

FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. High school students are challenged to design a team brand, hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform tasks against a field of competitors. Today, there are more than 140 FIRST Robotics competitions worldwide.


Recently, MEDB announced the robotics programs in Maui County who received grant funds during this 2016-2017 school year:


VEX Robotics programs:

Akaula, Kaunakakai Elementary, and Kilohana Elementary School   – $1,119
Baldwin High School – $5,000
Kalama Intermediate School – $5,000
Lahaina Intermediate School – $2,000
Lahainaluna High School – $2,500
Lihikai Elementary School – $3,000
Maui High School – $4,000
Maui Preparatory Academy – $3,000
Maui Waena Intermediate School – $5,000
Molokaʻi Middle School – $5,000
Pōmaikaʻi Elementary School – $2,695
Puʻu Kukui Elementary School – $4,989
Pukalani Elementary School – $5,000
St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School – $3,000

FIRST® Robotics programs:


Baldwin High School – $5,000
Maui High School – $5,000
Lahainaluna High School – $5,000

“Today, these MEDB grants are making a difference by giving students an opportunity to explore the world of robotics and other STEM programs,” said Jeanne Skog, MEDB President and CEO. “These experiences are also helping our youth connect the dots by providing hands-on experiences and cultivating STEM skills for future careers.”

The Friends of Hawaiʻi Robotics, a not-for-profit organization that supports Hawaiʻi’s robotics programs from elementary to high school stated that “Hands-on robotics education has proven to be successful STEM education pathway through which students become engaged with learning and their passion is ignited.”

Dennis Sasai, veteran teacher and lead mentor for Lahainaluna High School’s FIRST Robotics team stated that “Students don’t just learn how to build robots. Robotics teaches them STEM skills as well as life skills that they can use today and in the future. It teaches them to become leaders, problem solvers, and critical thinkers so they can not only survive, but also thrive in the 21st century.”

According to a national FIRST Robotics Competition Evaluation, 91% of the student participants were more interested in going to college, and 90% plan on taking more challenging math and/or science courses in the future as a result of engaging in robotics. Students were also twice as likely to decide to major in a STEM field (such as science or engineering) in college.

The robotics club at H.P. Baldwin High School ran by teacher Gary Suter really changed my life,” said Jacques Arnoult. “Robotics inspired me to go to college and pursue a degree in mechanical engineering in the hopes of one day joining a company that impacts the world in the form of transportation. I gained many technical and life skills required not just in engineering but in any career. Some of those skills that I learned were leadership, working with others, networking, and many more. Without that experience, I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today doing what I love.”

“Being a part of our school’s robotics team 2443 has completely altered my sense of problem solving, idea of teamwork, and impacted my future career choices,” said Sydney Dempsey, a senior at Maui High School. “It has taught me the value of hard work and dedication, and even that winning is not necessarily an action, but an attitude. I have never been so engrossed or passionate towards an activity until I decided to join team 2443 my freshman year. With these experiences, I want to pursue a career in computer science.”

“Seeing the impact of robotics and other STEM education initiatives on our islands’ youth has been extremely gratifying,” said Skog. “These programs are an investment in our youth, but they also require funding to keep them going. MEDB’s grants would not be possible without the generous support of the many businesses and individuals who contribute to the MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund’s annual fundraiser dinner. In addition to robotics, contributions also help to support various STEM programs and initiatives for students and teachers.” For a list of grantees, visit

The 2017 MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund Benefit Dinner & Auction will be held on Saturday, Aug. 26th at The Fairmont Kea Lani Maui. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

Raymond Andrade, a 2016 Baldwin High School graduate, does some fine-tuning on a robot during a MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund Dinner & Auction at the Fairmont Kea Lani resort. Inspired by his experiences in Baldwin’s robotics program, Andrade is now in his first year at UH Manoa majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

At its core, robotics programs help to encourage students to be creators, innovators and leaders.

Guests attending MEDB’s Ke Alahele Education Fund Dinner & Auction got a taste of driving a VEX robot. Remarked one guest, “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

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