Featured Grant Stories

New Grant Supports Nerds On A Mission Robotics Team

April 5, 2024

By La Crosse Community Foundation

Grant helps facilitate robotics program expansion

It was nerd nirvana today at the La Crosse Center. As 54 teams from five states gathered for the Seven Rivers Regional Robotics Competition, La Crosse Community Foundation announced a grant to Holmen’s FIRST Lego League team, Nerds On A Mission, to expand its program to a younger cohort.

N.O.A.M. began as a single, homeschool FIRST Lego League Challenge team in 2016. Interest has grown ever since, but the resources to begin and coach new teams have not. Hoping to open opportunities to more and younger students, the parents formed the nonprofit Nerds On A Mission Corporation to support fundraising. Through those efforts and the grant, they can purchase the laptops, tablets, and robot (and expansion) kits needed to expand the program. They’ll begin recruiting for new middle and elementary school teams this summer.

FIRST Lego Team cultivates interest in STEM careers

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a global nonprofit offering team-based robotics programs to inspire young people in science, technology, engineering, and math. FIRST Lego League teams design, build and program robots out of Lego elements to complete tasks autonomously on a 4’x 8′ challenge field.

“Many area high schools have FIRST Robotics Competition teams,” said N.O.A.M. coach and board member Peggy Maricle. “By getting kids involved in robotics programs beginning in elementary school, we hope to grow their interest and skills to strengthen the high school programs and encourage them to pursue STEM-related education and careers.”

FIRST robotics programs are the ultimate sport for the mind, according to FIRST’s website,  combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Robotics programs attract youth who are neuro-diverse and those who aren’t necessarily interested in joining a sports team.

“It’s a program for kids who don’t feel like they fit into other teams, and it gives them the opportunity to have that experience along with the thrill and challenge of competing in an activity they enjoy with their peers,” added Maricle.

Robotics program good for the community

And it’s a program La Crosse Community Foundation can get behind.

“Research tells us that young people engaging with FIRST robotics aren’t just playing with tech — they’re significantly boosting essential workforce abilities. They come to excel in teamwork, effective communication, and creative problem-solving,” said Jamie Schloegel, C.E.O. of La Crosse Community Foundation.

“What’s really remarkable,” she added, “is the universal benefit across all demographics. Regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or the type of community they live in, every student in FIRST experiences these positive outcomes. And that’s a great outcome for the entire community.”

About Nerds On A Mission

Nerds On A Mission is a FIRST Lego League Challenge team that combines research, coding, robotics, and teamwork to solve challenges. Team members are home school students in the Holmen, Wisconsin, area, supported by Nerds On A Mission Corporation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Competing in robotics competitions in Wisconsin and nationally, N.O.A.M. has wracked numerous awards and honors, including the 2nd Place Champion’s Award at the Wisconsin State Championship, earning them a place at the World Festival in Houston this month.