GSK Awards Coalition $50k STEM Equity Grant

Global healthcare company GSK today announced that the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition is one of five grantees selected as part of its 10-year commitment to increase the number of women and Black and Latinx Philadelphia students entering careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

GSK’s grant to the Coalition totals $50,000 over 18 months and will support the growth of our program staff, which provides the front-line support to our coaches and teams.

Tiger Tech from Bache-Martin Elementary school prepares their robot for a match at the Philadelphia FIRST LEGO League Challenge Qualifier at Central High School, December 2019. (Photo: RoboLancers)

Combined, the five grants announced today total over 1 million dollars. These grants build on the work of the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective, a city-wide, collaborative effort launched by GSK and the Philadelphia Education Fund in 2020. The Philadelphia Robotics Coalition is a member organization of the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective.

In addition to the grant, GSK has committed to sending some of its employees as volunteers to Coalition events next school year.

You can read about today’s other grant recipients in the press release from GSK.

Thank you, GSK, for supporting the Coalition’s work to build equity in STEM education!

Palumbo RoboGriffins are CoderZ Pro League World Champions!

The RoboGriffins, the student robotics team at Academy at Palumbo high school, won first place today in the CoderZ Pro League World Championship, besting team Explosion from School 1329 in Moscow, Russia in the final round.

CoderZ Pro League is a virtual robotics tournament that allows teams to program a simulated robot using the Python or Blockly programming language. In the qualifying rounds, teams played their code against an AI opponent. But in the playoffs, teams played their code head to head against another team. View game animation.

RoboGriffins from Academy at Palumbo won first place at the CoderZ Pro League 2020 World Championship.

This year, with School District of Philadelphia students learning from home, there has been no opportunity for robotics teams to build physical robots or compete in their usual competitions. The CoderZ Pro League provided a platform for students to continue learning programming, game strategy, and teamwork, competing from the safety of their own homes.

RoboGriffins co-captain Sharif Salim, a 12th grade student, has been working toward a big win like this since his freshman year. “It brings me great pride that our team all came together to make this possible,” said Salim. “It was a new experience using CoderZ, and though at first I didn’t have a clue how to use it, after a lot of practice and hard work we made it happen!”

Team co-captain Mingjin Lu, an 11th grade student, was the team’s lead programmer. Lu said “CoderZ gave me a huge opportunity to discover my coding abilities in a time when we can’t meet up in person. I encourage every student interested in STEM to participate in CoderZ.”

RoboGriffins co-captain Mingjin Lu, an 11th grade student at Academy at Palumbo High School, is the team’s lead programmer.

Coding projects and engineering design in general require an iterative process of testing and troubleshooting. “For me, CoderZ´s competition had moments of hardship and confusion,” said Zhijun Tian, an 11th grade team member. “But nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction at seeing our code working.” 

The team gathered via Google Meet to watch the final rounds together as they were streamed live from the CoderZ broadcast studio in Israel. “Watching the students cheer when we won the finals was so awesome!” said coach Sean Martin. “I’m exceptionally proud of them and the work they put in. Our students are so excited and engaged with STEM and robotics. I’m sure we’ll see a few of them shaping the future of technology in the next 10 years.”

“In spite of the monumental changes our school faced this year,” said coach Lee Burwasser, “the RoboGriffins proved they were able to stay focused and beat the best. Seeing a group of students learn as much as they have in such a short time was a teacher’s dream.”

The RoboGriffins at the Philadelphia FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament at Central High School, February 9, 2020.

“I want to congratulate the Palumbo robotics champions,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. “Whether athletics or the arts or robotics, our young people need an outlet to showcase their passions and skills. This team, by being STEM leaders, are showing Philadelphia students just another venue to reach their potential and make their mark.”

The CoderZ Pro League challenge launched in the fall, and five Philadelphia Robotics Coalition teams advanced to the playoffs. Within our region, the Constitution High School GenBots placed 3rd, Central High School RoboLancers FORTRAN made it to the quarterfinals, and the Parkway Center City Middle College RoboHounds and Central High School RoboLancers COBOL made it to the round of 16. The Palumbo RoboGriffins won the region to advance to (and win) the world championship rounds.

High school teams receive product design crash course from Professor Sarah Rottenberg

Two dozen high school robotics team members gathered virtually on Monday for a crash course in product design led by Professor Sarah Rottenberg, Executive Director of the Integrated Product Design Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

The students, representing the FIRST Robotics Competition teams from Central High School and Science Leadership Academy/Masterman High School in Philadelphia, plus Cheltenham High School, are tackling the FIRST Innovation Challenge which, this year, invites teams to “Identify a problem or opportunity and design a solution to help people (or a community of people) keep, regain, or achieve optimum physical and/or mental health and fitness through active play or movement.”

The crash course explained the product design process, highlighting the differences between a need-based process and a solution-based process that the teams are more used to.

Watch the recorded product design crash course on YouTube.

Teachers to Explore Naval Engineering in new Summer Program

The Philadelphia Robotics Coalition has partnered with Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division to launch the Naval Education Workforce Training (NEWT) Program in summer 2021.

The program gives teachers a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience, learning engineering skills and conducting research side by side with Navy engineers and scientists. This 8-week summer program will give teachers a taste of life as a professional engineer, and give them crucial insights that they will be able to bring back to their classrooms. Teachers will work with Navy mentors to develop demonstrations and curriculum materials to use in their classrooms.

Four teachers will be selected for the 2021 cohort. Each will receive will receive a $10,000 stipend for the 15-month program, and continued mentorship throughout the academic year including a classroom visit to give students a chance to interact directly with STEM professionals.

View the full details below, and apply by January 31st at


Subaru of America Foundation Supports Coalition Programs

We are pleased to announce that the Subaru of America Foundation has awarded the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition a $10,000 grant to support our robotics team programs!

Nailah Shabazz
Student Nailah Shabazz at the Pennsylvania FIRST Tech Challenge Championship, March 2020.

The Subaru of America Foundation aims to support the work of organizations that are empowering the growth and development of children and young adults through career exploration with relevance to job readiness and job skills training.

The Foundation focuses its efforts on the communities where Subaru employees live and work, so our location, just across the Delaware from Subaru’s national headquarters in Camden, NJ is right in their backyard.

Thank you, Subaru, for supporting the students of Philadelphia!

Coalition Teams Advance to CoderZ Playoffs

Though our teams can’t meet in person this year, that hasn’t stopped them from learning and competing from home. High school teams are competing in the CoderZ Pro League, a virtual robotics competition where students learn to code a simulated robot using Blockly or Python.

View the Topplebot challenge reveal video:

Through the preliminary stage and the group stage, individual students played their code against an AI opponent. The two highest scoring teams from each group have advanced to the playoffs where they will face off 1:1 with other teams from around the country.

Five of our Coalition teams have qualified for the playoff rounds:

  • RoboLancers COBOL from Central High School
  • RoboGriffins from Academy @ Palumbo High School
  • Parkway RoboHounds from Parkway Center City Middle College
  • GenBots from Constitution High School, and
  • RoboLancers FORTRAN from Central High School

The playoffs are a single elimination bracket tournament. The first round will be streamed live on Twitch on Thursday December 17. Join us!

Teams Compete at Philadelphia Scrimmage

Fifteen high school robotics teams competed Saturday in the FIRST Tech Challenge Philadelphia Scrimmage in Central High School’s gym. The teams have been working since September to design and build robots to play this year’s space-themed game, Rover Ruckus. In addition to the robot, teams expand their communication and teamwork skills, keep an engineering notebook, and prepare presentations for a panel of judges.

The Ambassadors from Bodine High School watch a match at the Philadelphia Scrimmage. Photo Credit: Art Jiang

The scrimmage was hosted by the Central High School RoboLancers in partnership with the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition, Pennsylvania FIRST Robotics, and the School District of Philadelphia. A FIRST LEGO League tournament for 4th-8th graders was held simultaneously in the other half of the gym, bringing a total of 40 teams and 100 volunteers together for a full day of friendly competition.

View a recap video of the whole event.

The scrimmage winners RoboLancers Gold from Central High School and Divide by Zero, a homeschool team from Harleysville, PA. Philadelphia’s FIRST Tech Challenge teams will return to Central High School on Saturday January 12th for the Philadelphia Qualifying Tournament to see which teams will advance to the state championship in March.

RoboLancers Gold from Central High School, the winning alliance captain climbs aboard the Rover Ruckus Lander with their alliance partner Divide by Zero from Harleysville, PA. Photo credit: Art Jiang

Philadelphia Robotics Coalition Honored by the Phillies

Philadelphia Robotics Coalition Executive Director Michael Johnson and Director at Large Sean Gallagher were honored guests at the Phillies Charities Holiday Party on December 6th in the Diamond Club at Citizens Bank Park. They were presented with the 2018 Community Hero Award and Grant, and had the opportunity to share their work with the other guests. And of course the Phillie Phanatic was on hand to join in the merriment.

Michael Johnson and Sean Gallagher meet the Phanatic at the Phillies Charities Holiday Party.