The Pi-oneers were inspired by Team Rush’s establishment of NAC and decided to bring the program back to New Jersey where the Advocacy for New Jersey Mentor-Based STEAM Programs was established. Meetings with government officials have been conducted to promote the allocation of federal funding from the reauthorization of ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act. The funding is to be distributed to underserved schools in the state of New Jersey for after school MBSP (Mentor Based STEAM Programs). Attendees of the organizational meeting included Senior Policy Advisor Marci Green from Governor Christie’s office, Assemblyman Robert Auth, Education Commissioner David Hespe, Assistant Commissioner of Innovation Evo Popoff, Bergen County Interim Executive Superintendent Norah Peck, as well as Pascack Valley Regional High School District Superintendent Erik Gunderson, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Dr. Barry Bachenheimer, District Director of Science and Technology Education Dr. Aarti Mallya, Principal of Pascack Valley H.S. Tom DeMaio, and Principal of Pascack Hills H.S. Glenn DeMarrais.
The presentation was well received. The Commissioner of Education immediately stated, “Let’s make this happen” and gave assignments to all the attendees. With the assistance of the Commissioner of Education’s office, the Pi-oneers met with the targeted schools to introduce Mentor-Based STEAM Programs. Team members spoke about creating a FIRST team, but discussed other options available such as Science Olympiad and VEX.
Team members traveled to the state capitol in Trenton, New Jersey, to further the Advocacy campaign. They also returned to the National Advocacy Conference later that month and spoke about the path to success and the creation of a state grant. During the summer, the team began planning the first annual New Jersey Advocacy Conference. The mission is to spread the awareness of FIRST and the importance of STEAM education for all.
As a result of numerous meetings and communications from the Pi-oneers, a grant of $15,000 was published in December by the New Jersey Department of Education titled FIRST Tech Challenge Mentoring Program- Bergen County Pilot. This grant allows the Pi-oneers to start and fund three FTC teams for two years. Currently, the Pi-oneers are mentoring these FTC teams and are looking forward to their future successes.