Pioneers in Engineering - University driven efficiency?

I’ve known about this organization at my university called Pioneers in Engineering for a while, and it seems like there’s some ancient threads that briefly discuss it. Basically, they run their own approximately Vex-scale robotics competition with around 30 teams where:

  • each team costs approximately $1800 each to run and compete, but about 92% of that cost is subsidized by the organization itself (such that each participating school only pays $100, greatly increasing accessibility)
  • The costs to run each team is primarily from fabricating the kit/field, which is a mix of Vex EDR and their own home-cooked build system - this is largely done “at cost” from the raw materials of the kit
  • Each team gets one to two student mentors, and the mentor program is provided as a “student run class” through the university
  • The entire program runs on an annual budget of around $55,000 according to their sponsorship packet

I’m honestly kind of surprised other similar programs aren’t common at other institutions. It seems like a cost-efficient model to maximize engagement per sponsorship dollar, fits the goals of “every student gets access to a high school robotics program.” By having the organization fundraise for the program instead of individual teams, it drives individual costs down. That said, it seems like it would have a hard time scaling up from university student labor.



We helped with a program with some similarities. It was free to teams. It was put on by a college. It was small RC bots. But I think much lower per team costs than yours. The kits were Pittsco-based.

The event volunteers were mostly college students. It was in connection to a class for teachers for science, and gave them experience with running a STEM competition. The college students also formed teams and competed alongside mostly middle school and some high school teams. One team I remember brought their rookie FTC robot to use and get practice.

The final time we did it we had around 40 teams. It pretty much covered small schools and areas with no FIRST exposure to speak of. I think it was a very interesting program, and I saw it grow a lot in the 4-5 competitions we helped with. Enough that they really needed to consider making better rules and maybe a more challenging game. However, the professor who arranged the competition ended up moving to another university, so we didn’t have the last two, and I think it might just be gone.

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This is part of the premise behind the funding model that the PNW district uses, AFAIK.

Pioneers in Engineering was our fiscal sponsor at 5499 (i.e. 501©3 for fundraising and mentors). However, I am not a UC Berkeley student nor alumni.

PiE has a lot of non-financial support ranging from a free workspace on campus, competition venue being donated, free student labor, and an extremely large and active alumni base. You can find more info here, though the report is from 2015. Without these, it’s highly unlikely that PiE would be able to maintain the program.

The programs aren’t common at other universities because of the sheer amount of effort and time it takes to set up.

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