Full 'STEAM' ahead: New Reno robotics center aims to produce local tech talent

Sixth-grader Rossie Copdo prepares to use a robot made of LEGO pieces at the new K-12 Robotics Center, which opened Aug. 6, 2021, inside the Southside Studio in downtown Reno.

Sixth-grader Rossie Copdo prepares to use a robot made of LEGO pieces at the new K-12 Robotics Center, which opened Aug. 6, 2021, inside the Southside Studio in downtown Reno. Photo by Kaleb Roedel.

Sixth-grader Rossie Copdo, wise beyond her years, is trying to find ways to stay off of her phone.

She’s in the right place.

Copdo is on the second floor of the Southside Studio in downtown Reno. Built in 1936, the 
historic redbrick building that used to house the Southside School is now home to a space where area students of all ages, from kindergartners to high school seniors, can develop the skills needed for the jobs of the future in Northern Nevada.

The space — known officially as the “K-12 Robotics Center | University of Nevada, Reno” — officially launched Friday, Aug. 6, and students like Copdo buzzed with excitement as they helped break in the new center.

“I think it’s really cool,” Copdo says with smiling eyes. “I recommend kids do this (robotics) because it keeps your mind active … and it keeps me away from my phone.”

Instead of scrolling and tapping an iPhone, Copdo is punching commands into a keyboard to bring a robot composed of LEGO pieces to life. Specifically, she is using aspects of automation, like vision systems and cameras, to maneuver the wheeled robot through a course mapped out on a raised surface, roughly the size of a pool table.

UNR President Brian Sandoval speaks during the grand opening of the “K-12 Robotics Center | University of Nevada, Reno” on Aug. 6, 2021. Seated, from left, are Jhone Ebert (Nevada Department of Education’s superintendent of public instruction), Mike Kazmierski (EDAWN president/CEO), Mridul Gautam (UNR’s VP for research and innovation), and Chris Reilly (Tesla’s director of recruiting and workforce development). Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW


“We have these tasks to complete with the robots in two minutes,” Copdo says as she prepares to tackle another mission. “It can be confusing at first, but once you get to do it a lot, you pick it up.”


Copdo knows from experience. She’s a member of the Wolf Pack Bots, a Reno-Sparks robotics team made up of students in grades 3-6 that competes in local, state and national First LEGO League competitions.

The K-12 Robotics Center, which is 
supported by Tesla and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), will act as an open space where youth robotics teams like Wolf Pack Bots can design, build and test their creations.

Rachel Salas, director of UNR’s Center of Learning and Literacy, coaches the Wolf Pack Bots. She told the NNBW that the kids on her robotics team not only learn valuable STEM skills, but also, perhaps more importantly, gain confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Kerry Thompson, coach of FYRE 5480, a community high school robotics team, stands by one the team’s robots. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW


“I don’t know if they’ll be engineers, I don’t know what they’ll do,” Salas said. “But at least we planted the seed and showed them that they have the ability to do it. I love the fact that they get to start so young (in robotics). By the time they graduate college, who knows what the technology is we’re working with.”

After all, by 2025, roughly 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines, according to a 2020 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). However, the tech-driven economy will create about 97 million new roles geared toward robotics and automation, WEF estimates.


All told, in less than four years, WEF forecasts the time spent on tasks by humans and machines will be a 50-50 split. That’s a significant rise in automation compared to the current global economy, which runs on 30% of tasks done by machines.

With that in mind, Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of EDAWN, said the new K-12 Robotics Center will communicate to the region’s technology and advanced manufacturing companies — and those targeting greater Reno-Sparks for expansion or relocation — that Northern Nevada is producing talent to meet their future needs.

EDAWN’s Mike Kazmierski speaks at the Aug. 6 grand opening. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW


“This is so important to our economy, to our community, to our attitude,” Kazmierski told the NNBW. “These are STEAM skills that we’re going to need, not just for kids, but for our companies. We have technology-related companies that expect our talent coming out of our (education) system to be able to work at their facilities. And without encouraging and motivating our kids to take advantage of and learn the skills of the future, we’ll end up being behind where we need to be.

“So, this really is part of a much bigger effort to get the STEAM skills in our education system early, and motivate our kids to take advantage of this.”

In the last four years, Nevada schools have experienced a 160% increase in robotics teams, Kazmierski said during a speech at the grand opening of K-12 Robotics Center.

Yet, seven out of 10 schools in the Silver State don’t have a single robotics team, he added.

“We have a long ways to go,” Kazmierski told the crowd of nearly 100 people on Aug. 6. “But, in Washoe County, this K-12 Robotics Center will help us get to 100% of all Washoe County schools in the next few years. It’s an aspirational goal, but also, in my view, a requirement.”

UNR President Brian Sandoval agrees.

“We need our students — at all levels of our educational systems and from all backgrounds — to see and understand the opportunities ahead,” he said.


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