CSM Robotics Challenge Joins Forces with a World Class Event


By Pete Hurrey

It all started in the mid 1990s when the College of Southern Maryland was inundated with requests for more engineering students by local defense contractors. Back then it was apparent that there was not a lot of interest in the fields of science, technology and engineering by local students.

The powers that be brainstormed about how to attract more engineering and math students into the area. CSM began lecturing at area high schools to generate interest, but that did not work. Then CSM contacted the National Science Foundation for some ideas.

By the late 1990s, NSF had awarded CSM a $250,000 grant to perform a study of the problem. By the early 2000s it was determined that science challenges and activities needed to be introduced to local students as early as elementary school.

 Dr. Jeff Tjiputra with a CSM Robotics Challenge
 kit that students require to enter the challenge.
Enter, Dr. Jeff Tjiputra in 2003. Before Tjiputra came to CSM there had been a few people toying with the idea of robotic challenges and demonstration to stimulate interest in science, engineering and math at the high school level. Tjiputra took the reigns and created the CSM Robotics Challenge.

“In our first year, we only had a few schools participate,” said Tjiputra. By 2008, the challenge had over 20 participating schools. “This year, in March we expect to have over 30 teams,” said Tjiputra. The enigmatic professor went on to state that the competition would be open to schools from outside of Southern Maryland for the very first time as well.

“The event will still be free for Southern Maryland schools, but there will be a nominal fee for schools wishing to participate,” said Tjiputra. He indicated that as rewarding and exciting as the growth in the program is, the most exciting thing is the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’s Tech Challenge.

FIRST is the brainchild of Dean Kamen, an inventor, entrepreneur and staunch advocate for science and technology. Kamen has invented many scientifically beneficial types of equipment including the portable insulin pump and kidney dialysis machines.


Kamen began his robotics challenge in a school gym in New Hampshire in 1992 with 28 teams participating. This past year, the FIRST World Competitions in the Georgia Dome hosted over 150,000 children in the competition.

For the first time ever, CSM will be the host of one of three categories of FIRST’s efforts. The college will host the Maryland State Championships for the FIRST Tech Challenge. “Winners here will be eligible to participate in the World Challenge at the Georgia Dome,” said Tjiputra.

Students are excited by the prospect of using their knowledge and training to design and build a robot to compete with other teams for the best. However, Tjiputra warned that robotics challenges are expensive for schools. “The CSM robots kits run about $300 each,” said Tjiputra. “The FIRST kits cost about $750 for the Tech Challenge and St. Mary’s County’s Forrest Tech Center is looking for sponsorships up to $40,000 for their entry into FIRST’s highest level of competition – the FIRST Robotics Challenge entry.”

Mark Czajka, President of Charles County Tech Council knows the expense is an obstacle and his council has worked for two years to support local high schools by raising funds for robotic kits. “We are constantly looking to raise money so more schools can field teams to enter the competition,” said Czajka. “The kids really get into this and we need more focus on science, technology, engineering and math and this competition helps kids realize that STEM can be a lot of fun.”