CSM Talons Robotics Team Wins Startup Maryland Prize

Members of the College of Southern Maryland robotics team attend the Startup Maryland Pitch Across Maryland event in Indian Head. The CSM students pitched an idea to help other community colleges start their own robotics teams

$500 Will Be Used to Advise Other Community Colleges How to Start Their Own Teams

Members of the College of Southern Maryland Talons robotics team headed to Indian Head recently to give robot demonstrations for visitors to Startup Maryland's STRT1UP road show. What the students hadn't counted on was 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 three-week 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 several groups came together to make the Startup Maryland bus stop in Charles County a reality.

Among the sponsors of the Startup Maryland visit to Indian Head were the College of Southern Maryland, Small Business Development Center, TechFire, Energetics Technology Center, Charles County government, the Town of Indian Head, Charles County Chamber of Commerce, NAVSEA and Southern Maryland Innovation & Technology.

Indian Head was an ideal spot for a tour stop, Luginbill said. And since the event offered an opportunity for some good exposure for students in the college's robotics program, he recommended that representatives of the Talons team attend.

“The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head specializes in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robotics technology. 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,” Luginbill said.

He also noted the 20-year-old mayor of Indian Head, Brandon Paulin, went to high school with CSM Robotics Club President George Jenkins of Port Tobacco. Both graduated from Henry E. Lackey High School in Indian Head.

“The Talons robotics team is a class act and an extremely well-run organization. This team shows how faculty and students can come together in a fun and collaborative learning environment,” Luginbill said. “We wanted the community to see that education can still be fun.”

The CSM students had only planned to conduct robotics demonstrations and allow visitors to the event to maneuver a robot.

“The team has conducted demos before, but they've never made a pitch,” said Bernice Brezina, interim chair of CSM's Business and Technology Division. She also has been the lead faculty adviser since the robotics team started at CSM in 2010. Ronda Jacobs and William Luyster, CSM faculty members, have since taken over management of the robotics club and the Talons team.

Brezina said the students were unexpectedly called in to make a pitch at the Startup Maryland event. “They looked at us, and we looked at them, and then we said, 'Go ahead.'”

At first, she said, the robotics students were not sure what to do.

“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.

Jacobs said the CSM 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 even 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.”

CSM hosts qualifiers for the VEX U World Championship at its La Plata Campus, and the CSM team finds itself competing with major universities, which in the past have included such schools as George Mason University; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Purdue University; and Old Dominion University. Qualifiers this winter will be Jan. 6 and Feb. 3.

In 2015, the Talons earned the prestigious Community Award at the VEX U World Championship. Earlier this year, the team made another appearance at the 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 are very active in community outreach efforts, whether they are attending expos, STEM nights at local schools or giving demonstrations. Members 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,” she 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.”

The college has an engineering technology program, with robotics being one of the areas of concentration.

“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.” The credits in this program count toward the completion of an associate degree in engineering technology with robotics as the area of concentration.

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.

An upcoming Cyber Awareness Day will provide guest speakers who will talk about employment in the cybersecurity field. The event will be held from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13 in the Science and Technology (ST) Building atrium on the La Plata Campus at 8730 Mitchell Road. On Oct. 20, a former Enron executive is slated to speak on business ethics. Brezina said the presentation will take place on the Prince Frederick Campus and broadcast live on the other campuses.

She noted interest in cybersecurity programs is growing at CSM.

“The cybersecurity club is really taking off. It was standing room only at the first club meeting of the semester, when before there were maybe four or five students,” Brezina said.

For information on robotics and STEM events at CSM, visit www.csmd.edu/STEM. For more on the Talons, visit http://stem.csmd.edu/events_csmroboticsVEX.html.




CSM Cyber Awareness Day. 2:30-6:30 p.m. Oct. 13. Science and Technology (ST) Building, Atrium, La Plata Campus, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata. Hear what it takes to make it in the cybersecurity world of employment, direct from employers. Guest speakers, Q&A, prizes. 301-934-2251.