County robotics program receives grant


Nearly every elementary, middle and high school in Jackson County has a robotics program.

There are around 200 students involved in 14 schools or clubs. The county is the fourth largest in the state with official teams, and with 1.45 teams per thousand people, it’s the largest in the state.

Plus, seven elementary and 11 middle school teams qualified for the VEX IQ state competition earlier this year.

Putting all of those numbers together, the Duke Energy Foundation determined the newly labeled Jackson County 36Robotics program was worthy of receiving a $6,000 grant.

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On Tuesday afternoon, Chip Orben, manager of government and community relations for Duke Energy, presented a check to program representatives Jackie Hill and Jody Deckard with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. Several of the robotics coaches from public and private schools in the county and officials with the Boys and Girls Club’s after-school robotics program were on hand, too.

"Duke is always looking for ways to get involved in a variety of different activities," Orben said. "Robotics is really important to us from that standpoint … because we’re always looking for engineers and we’re always looking for innovative ways to see and do things."

Orben said it’s great to see so many Jackson County students involved in robotics.

"It’s just amazing to me that we have youth that really jump into that and it really ticks and make them go," he said. "You can see their minds moving, kind of like the robots move a little bit, and it’s something that is very intriguing to me because I don’t think that way. But it’s neat that we have kids and we have folks like you that are out there inspiring those students to become involved and find something to do."

Considering students have so many options for activities, Orben said it’s good to see a lot of them interested in robotics.

"If we can get them motivated and understand this and continue to pursue it going forward, we’re going to be that much better off," he said.

He also likes how the county schools help each other with robotics.

"It’s always fun for me to see this kind of stuff come to life and see groups come together and really work together to make this happen," he said. "It really takes a partnership to put all of this together. That’s really what our foundation wants to do. We really want to put money back into the communities that are really looking to increase themselves and make themselves better."

Orben thanked the robotics coaches for what they do for the students and thanked Hill and Deckard for everything they have done for the county robotics program.

Hill said she appreciates all of the coaches for their work.

"It’s nothing I’ve done," she said. "It’s all of them being a part of this."

Hill said the Duke Energy Foundation grant will help the county invest in robots for the schools.

Dallas Goecker, coach of the robotics teams at Immanuel Lutheran School and Trinity Lutheran High School, said JCIDC has helped the county programs have access to robotics kits.

"It’s hard for (the coaches) to plan so long in advance to get that sort of funding, whereas it’s there. Jackie is there able to give it out much easier to help grow the program," he said. "What JCIDC has done over the last few years has grown this program massively."

Size-wise, Goecker said only Marion County, Hamilton County and a Chicago area county in Indiana are larger than Jackson County in the VEX IQ robotics program, which is for elementary and middle schools. Per capita, though, Jackson County is No. 1, outpacing Marion County by 3 to 1.

"That speaks volumes for what you’re doing down here," Orben said.

He then said he had no idea how much it costs to enter robotics tournaments, which consist of the state, national and world competitions.

"When Jackie first approached me about putting in the grant and when she sent me the budget, I was really kind of floored by the budget," Orben said.

Along with the county program’s new name, there is a new website, created by Shawn Mahoney. Also, Hill said coaches have been hired at Brownstown Central and Seymour high schools to revive those programs, the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour has an after-school robotics program and a local home-school group will be contacted to offer robotics.

"We’ll continue to focus our funding on some of the soft things that you can’t utilize grant funding for," Hill said. "We’re excited about what’s going to happen this year."

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For information about Jackson County 36Robotics, visit


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