Black History Month 2022 Feature: Marcia Evans and Sandra Whittle-Jeffcoat

Organization: The National Coalition of 100 Black Women Las Vegas

Team/Program: VEX IQ Challenge

State: Nevada

How did you become interested in robotics?

Marcia: I was able to volunteer at VEX Worlds with my family, and was impressed with the students and program. Seeing and interacting with teams from all over the globe, seeing their robots, and speaking with the students was inspiring. I shared my experience there with Sandra who was asked to be the lead for a youth group with a STEM activity in the city of Las Vegas.  

Sandra: I have a background in technology. I noticed that students in the inner city seemed to be behind in technology. Many of the students had limited access to computers, and definitely no robotics experience. Marcia shared with me about her experience at VEX Worlds, and we decided to bring the VEX IQ Challenge program to our inner-city students. I looked for funding to start teams through the city and various universities. We received a generous donation of 7 robots from the Engineering department at the University of Nevada at Reno. We continued to receive donations to enter our teams into competitions.

Did you have any mentors?  

Marcia: We were each other’s mentors, along with REC Foundation staff.   

Sandra: Whoever I can call on when I need help is my mentor: family, friends, kids, and volunteers.

What benefits/strengths have you seen develop in your students?   

Marcia: Presentation skills, along with collaborative skills. They learn to work with anybody and everybody on the team. Watching them learn to do things on their own, like writing their robot programs, has moved them from saying “I can’t” to saying “I’ll try.”   

Sandra: Students have become more well-rounded. They have learned about voting, money matters, and why it's important to save, as well as learning other life skills. Students also became more thoughtful, reflective, and resourceful. These skills were beneficial when they had to reconfigure their robot on the fly when it didn’t meet the height requirements at a competition.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting involved with robotics/starting teams? 

Marcia: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to know everything, and there are plenty of resources out there. The REC Foundation and VEX Robotics have many online resources and support. Also, consider reaching out to local schools for their support as well. There is help out there. Just be willing to ask for it.  

Sandra: These kids will amaze you with their knowledge. They just don’t know what they know yet. We provide opportunities for parents that will introduce their kids to options other than sports. Encourage parents to support their children in the program. Most kids will try anything, and just need someone to care and give them a chance.

What advice would you share with students? 

Be encouraged to step out of your comfort zone. There are so many things in the world to do! Show up and be ready to learn something new.

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