CSM robotics team wins Startup Maryland prize
Talons pitched idea at road show stop in Indian Head
The College of Southern Maryland Talons robotics team gave a robotics demonstration for visitors to Startup Maryland’s STRT1UP Road Show last month in Indian Head and ended up walking away with a $500 prize.
Dozens of entrepreneurs in the region stopped by to pitch ideas for new businesses and innovations on the Pitch Across Maryland bus which had been touring different regions of the state. Southern Maryland’s stop on the threeweek bus tour was Sept. 16 at the Indian Head Village Green Pavilion.
Thomas Luginbill, the director of the newly formed CSM Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute, said in a news release that Indian Head was an ideal spot for the tour stop and that he recommend the robotics team attend the event.
“The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head specializes in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robotics technology,” he said. “Bringing the robotics students to Indian Head was a perfect way to highlight our young innovators and show the community some of our future EOD research scientists.”
While the students only planned to hold a robotics demonstration and allow visitors to drive the robot around, they were unexpectedly asked to make a business pitch, said Bernice Brezina, interim chairwoman of CSM’s Business and Technology Division. She said they weren’t sure what to pitch, so she suggested they pitch the idea of starting other college robotics teams in the state.
“You always talk about wanting to compete with other community college teams in the state, and there aren’t any. You always say you’d like to help other colleges get started,” Brezina recalled telling the students. “Talk about that.”
So the Talons members pitched their idea to advise other community colleges on how to start their own robotics teams and ended up winning the $500 prize, which the team intends to put toward the project.
“The Talons robotics team is a class act and an extremely well-run organization,” Luginbill said. “This team shows how faculty and students can come together in a fun and collaborative learning environment. We wanted the community to see that education can still be fun.”
Brezina has been lead advisor for the team since its start in 2010, though faculty members Ronda Jacobs and William Luyster have since taken over management of the robotics club and Talons team.
Jacobs said the robotics team often receives inquiries from other schools wanting information on what the Talons team does and suggestions for how to start a competitive team. The college also has a robotics club that meets once a month during the school year. Members of the Talons team are selected from the club, and they meet twice a week during the school year and during the summer.
“CSM has had great success with our robotics program,” Jacobs said. “The Talons can definitely help other teams. And the prize money will help team members formulate a plan to help direct other colleges.”
The college hosts qualifiers for the VEX U World Championship at its La Plata Campus, and the team finds itself competing with major universities, which in the past have included such schools as George Mason, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Purdue and Old Dominion. Qualifying rounds this winter are Jan. 6 and Feb. 3.
In 2015, the Talons earned the Community Award at the VEX U World Championship.
“We enjoy hosting the qualifiers,” Brezina said. “It’s a good opportunity to highlight the college’s academic programs, and it brings together students, faculty and engineers in the community.”
CSM also holds several other STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — events for local schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Club members attending expos, STEM nights at local schools and give demonstrations in the community. The club also helped to set up the academic robotics lab at CSM’s Leonardtown Campus.
“We have a very active STEM outreach program at CSM and only one leg of that is robotics,” Brezina said. “We host competitions with representation from nearly every public school in the region. And that includes private schools, home-schoolers and other Scouting and 4-H groups.” The college has formed Lego and VEX robotics leagues for middle and high school teams.
“Leagues keep us very busy,” Jacobs said. “We compete like a sports league with multiple weekend competitions and league play sessions, all leading up to a championship event.”
Robotics is an area of concentration within the college’s engineering technology program.
“CSM started the Certificate of Robotics Technology program last year,” Brezina said. “We have the first group of students — four who started about a year and a half ago — who will be graduating with the certificate this semester in the winter graduation.” Program credits count toward an associate degree in engineering technology.
The Business and Technology Division also plans career awareness events during the semester. A robotics presentation and recruiting event was held in September. Loccioni USA Inc. representatives visited the Leonardtown Campus to present its robotics technologies and discuss their interest in recruiting CSM students.
Luginbill said several groups came together to get the Startup Maryland bus to stop in Charles County including CSM, Small Business Development Center, Tech Fire, Energetics Technology Center, Charles County government, the Town of Indian Head, Charles County Chamber of Commerce, NAVSEA and Southern Maryland Innovation & Technology.
Members of the College of Southern Maryland robotics team attend the Startup Maryland Pitch Across Maryland event in Indian Head last month. The students pitched an idea to help other community colleges start their own robotics teams and won a $500 prize. From left are Joseph May of La Plata, George Jenkins of Port Tobacco, president of the CSM Robotics Club, Edward Gesser of Mechanicsville, WenXing Lin of St. Leonard and John Hamel of Mechanicsville.