#STEMSpotlight: ORTOP

#STEMSpotlight: ORTOP

What’s the name of your organization? Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program (ORTOP, also known as FIRSTOregon).

What’s your name and title? Beth Hutchins, Executive Director.

In which city (or cities) is your organization located? ORTOP is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, but delivers programs to students across Oregon.

What are the ages and demographics of youth you work with? ORTOP provides programming to our partners with age-appropriate annual STEM challenges for youth:FIRST® LEGO™ LEAGUE Discover (K-1st grades)FIRST LEGO LEAGUE Explore (2nd-3rd grades)FIRST LEGO LEAGUE Challenger (4th-8th grades)FIRST Tech Challenge (7th-12th grades)FIRST Robotics Competition (9th-12th grades)

Describe your organization and its mission. ORTOP’s Mission is to welcome, engage, educate, and inspire Oregon's youth and their diverse communities through robotics programs.ORTOP is the Program Delivery Partner for FIRST, a robotics community that prepares students for their future. FIRST develops annual Project-Based Learning (PBL) challenges to capture young people's inherent creativity and curiosity. FIRST is a PreK-12 continuum of programs, providing direct access to adult mentors from local employers, college scholarships, and career pathways. Longitudinal studies of FIRST demonstrate a significant increase in participants' STEM skills, knowledge, and identity, leading to increases in STEM college enrollment.ORTOP supports over 7,230 children participating across Oregon, with over 4,700 volunteer coaches, mentors, referees, and judges helping put on 90+ competitive events statewide. At events, teams demonstrate and celebrate their accomplishments and learn alongside their peers. ORTOP provides equity-based financial and technical support to reduce systemic barriers faced by students from marginalized communities. (Participation numbers pre-pandemic)

What are the short and long-term goals for your organization? Short-term goals – return to normal operations once COVID-19 is significantly reduced as an issue.Long-term goals – reach more Oregon students, especially underserved and underrepresented, including rural communities.

How can TAO and community members support your work? ORTOP is always recruiting adult volunteers and is always seeking donations.Volunteers are needed as team mentors and to staff over 50 tournaments. Team mentors help the team’s leadership to guide the students in their successes as well as to serve as role models. Remote mentoring via teleconference just a few hours each week in the school season provides the rural-based teams with mentorship guidance that they otherwise would not receive. Volunteering to help staff one of the over 100 roles that are required to host a youth robotics tournament can also support ORTOP’s work. Roles as varied as scorekeeper, judging, refereeing, and even team check-in can ensure that the tournaments are successful. 

These tournaments are where students showcase their successes in robot design/programming to solve the annual challenges, and also provide a great opportunity for students to meet and develop friendships with others that look just like themselves. The tournaments are held from December through April, and volunteers receive online training to ensure they are well-prepared for their roles. 

(NOTE: All volunteers must pass FIRST youth protection program screening before participating)Donations made to ORTOP are tax-deductible and are used to provide team support grants that remove financial barriers for underserved/underrepresented student teams to participate. ORTOP raises over $250,000 annually through donations to ensure access to the programs through a rigorous application and review process to ensure grants go to those teams needing financial assistance.

If you would like to volunteer to support this work, please contact Dominique DuWeese at dominique-deweese@ortop.org.

This blog post is part of an awareness campaign about organizations working to advance STEM education opportunities for Oregon youth. A big thank you to Oregon Community Foundation for supporting STEM education!

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