In 2008, two teachers from Bossier Parish Schools (Richard Warren from Benton Middle School and Marvin Nelson from Benton High School) recognized their students’ desire for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education beyond the classroom and began an annual robotics competition. With their vision and hard work, combined with support from Bossier Parish Schools’ administration, the Northwest Louisiana Autonomous Robotics Competition (NWLA ARC) was born. This event was held each May at Benton Middle School and grew to over 200 students.
In 2010, the NWLA ARC committee asked the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC) to sponsor the event. The CIC recognized the value in the activities and the potential of engaging a greater number of students through a strategic partnership. In order to help expand STEM learning opportunities in the region, the CIC partnered with the founding schools to host the 2010 and 2011 competitions. Forty-three teams from approximately 13 schools participated in the 2010 competition. In 2011, the competition was renamed the Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit and the number of participating teams grew to 56 teams from 26 schools in Bossier, Caddo, and Natchitoches Parishes.
While the increased participation in the annual competition was a clear indication of the demand for informal STEM education, the Cyber Innovation Center also received requests from both school administrators and teachers for more opportunities to engage their students in hands-on STEM learning throughout the academic school year. Thus, the Cyber Innovation Center offered to expand the annual competition to a circuit of four competitions and to take the lead on the administrative responsibilities. The Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit (RARC) kicked off in September 2011 at the Bossier Civic Center in Bossier City, Louisiana. Thirty-seven different schools from seven parishes participated in the 2011-2012 RARC with 508 students in grades 4-12 benefitting from the program. The 2012-2013 RARC experienced a 41% increase in participation over the previous year with over 825 elementary, middle, and high school students from 48 schools participating in the four competitions.
The Cyber Innovation Center is working with school districts from other communities in order to expand the RARC “footprint.” Our goal is to continue to make the RARC better each and every year while continuing to expand the competition to include more and more students. The circuit’s continued success is made possible through strategic partnerships with Bossier Parish Schools, the City of Bossier City, and Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center.