Great Lakes Science Center Robotics Initiative

Great Lakes Science Center Robotics Initiative is a collaboration between the Science Center and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) that provides high school students with the curriculum, expert mentors and resources to participate in FIRST Robotics competitions throughout the Great Lakes region. The FIRST Robotics Competition is the varsity level program with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science & Technology), a leading non-profit advancing STEM education for youth.

Great Lakes Science Center Robotics Initiative was launched to increase the participation of Cleveland’s historically underserved and underrepresented youth in the field of robotics and underscores our belief that the strength of our community depends on the students of today being able to see themselves confidently in the STEM careers of the future.

Working directly with expert mentors and coaches, students in this team-based initiative work collaboratively to build and program innovative industrial robots. Robotics programming provides students with hands-on engineering, coding, and design experience, while honing critical soft skills, such as communications, teamwork and leadership.

The Robotics Initiative currently has more than 100 students in the program from MC2 STEM High School, Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School, John Marshall High School and East Technical High School. The Robotics Initiative will grow to six teams in the 2023/24 season with the addition of teams from Garrett Morgan High School and an all-girls team comprised of students from across the district.

As part of the Robotics Initiative, the Science Center is host to the Curiosity Open: Robotics Challenge, an off-season invitational open FIRST Robotics Competition for high school students from Northeast Ohio and surrounding regions. The Curiosity Open transforms the Science Center’s special exhibitions hall into a robot playing field where teams go head to head, tournament style, to see whose robots are the best.

2022-23 Season Highlights

April 2023 - Greater Pittsburgh Regional
Carnegie Mellon University Campus Tour – Students met with University staff, toured classrooms and laboratory facilities, and discussed admission requirements.

September 2023 - Kettering KickOff
Kettering University Campus Tour – Students met with University staff, toured classrooms and laboratory facilities, and discussed admission requirements with admissions personnel.
PPG Flint Facility – Students toured the PPG site in Flint, Michigan and spoke with their employees about careers with PPG.

Team 8222: The Astronauts 
Ended in 12th position after competing in the playoffs at the Buckeye Regional
Won Judges Award at Pittsburgh Regional
2nd place with Alliance Partners at the Ohio State Championship in May

Rockwell Automation Robotics Room

The Rockwell Automation Robotics Room is the workspace for the high school robotics teams sponsored through Great Lakes Science Center Robotics Initiative. The Robotics Room is designed for robotics design, fabrication and programming. It provides build space for each team and includes individual work stations, upgraded manufacturing equipment and power tools including a variable speed lathe, gear drive milling machine, 3-D printers, and locked storage carts for teams to use when transporting materials to competitions, as well as building areas and seating. The generous investment in the robotics room by Rockwell is part of the company’s larger vision to give back to students through its national giving relationship and investment strategy with FIRST. The initial teams that benefit from the new Robotics Room are comprised of traditionally underserved and underrepresented students and the program increases equity and access for Cleveland’s youth to participate in the FIRST Robotics competition without financial barriers.

Prosthetic Hand Community Service Project

When Great Lakes Science Center first set out to collaborate with CMSD, the goal was to inspire a more diverse student population to engage in the FIRST Robotics program.

The Robotics Initiative however quickly evolved into something more -- a spirit of global community, teamwork, inspiration, friendship and hope as students turned their attention to building prosthetic hands and changing the lives of kids in need – in Cleveland and in Central and South America.

The teammates provided their first mechanical prototype hand for Ernest, a now 14-year-old Cleveland student. He began being fitted for his hand following a CMSD Tech Fest open house event in August 2022.

In October 2022, Ernest received his finished custom hand, and the robotics students also provided two custom-designed mechanical hands for their first international patient — a 12-year-old girl in robotics student Daniela Moreno’s native country of Ecuador named Samantha. The cross-continental connection between the two girls from Ecuador was made via IMAHelps, a California-based non-profit organization that runs private medical, dental, and surgical humanitarian missions in Central and South America.

An IMAHelps board member learned of the Robotics Initiative students at a Rotary Club meeting in which JonDarr Bradshaw, the Science Center’s community engagement coordinator and robotics team leader, described his students’ capabilities and their interest in participating in a global community service project. 

Using computer-aided design software, the students customize each prosthetic device for the individual user. Then they fabricate the parts using several 3-D printers and materials they purchase through their own fundraising efforts. The students then assemble and test each device before they are delivered. 

Based on feedback and meetings over the Internet, the students were able to tweak their design and built an even better fitting prosthetic for Samantha, which was delivered to her in person in Ecuador by Robotics Initiative students Yariselle Andujar and Gabriel Leonard in July 2023. These two students, along with Bradshaw and their robotics coach from Davis High School, met up in Ecuador with a team of doctors, health care professionals and other volunteers from IMAHelps, for a 10-day humanitarian mission that saw the students fit Samantha and four other children in need with new prosthetic devices. The students were able to volunteer with the IMAHelps medical team at a hospital in Quito, Ecuador where the majority of the mission’s work took place.

Due to the success of the trip, the future will very likely hold additional prosthetic devices being designed and built and shipped to Ecuador, along with a potential second IMAHelps mission trip in the summer, this time to the Dominican Republic.

 “I would have never believed that high school students, from different Cleveland neighborhoods, would have come together to do something so life-changing for us. It’s a real blessing.” Carmen Priester, Ernest’s mother.

With the experience, confidence, and determination to breach economic barriers for other children that cannot obtain a prosthesis by other means, the students at the Great Lakes Science Center Robotics Initiative have made a global impact with their work.

To learn more about this initiative, contact Karyn Torigoe at To help support this initiative, contact Liz Conway at For media inquiries contact Joe Yachanin at