MONTGOMERY — Children in the Upper Kanawha Valley will soon have the opportunity to explore the burgeoning field of robotics thanks to a recent $10,000 grant from Truist Foundation to BridgeValley Community and Technical College.

The grant is targeted for BridgeValley's makerspace called The GRID, an area designed to encourage creativity and collaboration in crafts, coding and more.

Specifically, the grant will fund BVCTC's VEX Robotics program that encourages and cultivates coding skills in elementary, middle and high school students. Students will learn to design, build and operate robots in camps and after-school programs. The grant will also support BVCTC's three robotics competition teams (two middle school-aged, and one high school-aged) to participate in local, state and national robotics competitions. The robotics instructor has taken several teams to state competitions in the past.

"The robotics program and related activities held at the GRID will be an accessible way for young children to acquire and develop coding skills that are foundational for a good job in the future with a high wage," said Dr. Eunice Bellinger, president of BVCTC. "BridgeValley is grateful to the Truist Foundation for its support of the program."

The GRID currently consists of more than nine makerspaces, with additional spaces planned for the future. Laura McCullough, vice president of community and corporate education, said The GRID is more than makerspaces. "We program workshops at the GRID for skill development," she said. "C-working, office and studio spaces are available to rent. Galleries for our makers to hold exhibitions of their work and small retail spaces where work can be showcased for e-commerce platforms are also available."

GRID's secondary mission is to help people launch business ideas. Funding partners to date have been the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and BB&T and now Truist and the WV Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. GRID staff members are following a model of creative placemaking approach to community development.

Bellinger added that the Truist Foundation grant is an investment into the community and will lift up young people and draw interest in the growing field of robotics. "According to an analysis of recent employment data conducted by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, measurable improvement is needed in equipping the work force of tomorrow with digital skills. Our citizens, residing in the Upper Kanawha Valley, are an underrepresented population, and they need to have access to programs that teach digital skills," she said.

"We're proud to support BVCTC's initiatives to educate and prepare our young students for a promising future," said Bobby Blakley, West Virginia regional president at Truist, speaking on behalf of the Truist Foundation. "We hope this grant helps cultivate their skills and interest in technology that will benefit them and our community today and in the long term."

All students interested in participating are encouraged to keep an eye on The GRID's website. The program is currently scheduled to launch in the summer, if there are no major delays brought on by the pandemic.

For more information about The GRID at BVCTC, visit www.bridgevalley.edu/grid.

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