Katherine Du

Two first years, Pranav Avasarala ’22 and Andonny Garcia ’22, have co-founded Yale Funbotics, an extracurricular organization that seeks to expose underrepresented middle school students to robotics.

The program strives to provide an outlet where students who lack other resources to do engineering can develop core engineering skills. In the program’s sessions, students will learn the physics concepts behind robotics and “why they work the way they do,” explained Dylan Paul ’22, the social media manager for the club.

“Robotics is a very high barrier to entry extracurricular activity, since the materials are so expensive,” Avasarala said.

In Funbotics, which holds sessions from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every other Sunday, students form teams and are guided through the process of making a robot. In addition to being taught the fundamentals of piecing together a robot, each team is encouraged to discuss and incorporate its own design elements that will allow its robot to succeed in competition.

The competition takes place at the end of the seven sessions, in which two teams compete at a time to see who can control their robot to stack the most cones and push the most cones onto their opponent’s side of the playing field. The curriculum of the program is based off of VEX Robotics, a large global robotics program for middle and high school students.

Avasarala said that the competition helps show students that the work they put into creating the robots pays off at the end.

“What I like about this program is it’s not very direct, like ‘you must do this’ — you do it at your own pace, and in the end when you’re done, you’re done,” said Etienne Berthelot-Hill, a middle schooler interested in robotics.

Camryn Brown, another middle schooler, described the program as “fun” and said that it was “cool to build a robot.” Brown joined Funbotics because she wanted to try something new and is now interested in more robotics and engineering–related pursuits in the future.

Each session also includes fun challenges unrelated to robotics, where students can further develop their problem solving and team building skills. These activities have included making the tallest tower out of toothpicks and marshmallows and designing the fastest car that could roll down a ramp using cups and toothpicks.

“Our purpose is to try to get kids excited about STEM, try to show them that STEM can be a fun thing to do and try to open them up to think that it could be a good career opportunity,” Avasarala said.

Avasarala founded Funbotics in high school. He wanted to continue doing robotics volunteering in college, which led him to start this branch of Funbotics at Yale with Garcia, who he met at Bulldog Days while shopping the same engineering class.

They approached Vincent Wilczynski, deputy dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design, who referred them to Yale Pathways to Science to enroll middle school students to work with.

“This is our first year doing [Funbotics]. We are hoping to establish something that will last for a really long time,” Garcia said.

Katherine Du | katherine.du@yale.edu