In July of 2011, Jeff Merkley held a Congressional field hearing to hear directly from local educators, teachers and even students about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). During that hearing, Jeff talked about his efforts to increase Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in our schools and had a Portland area robotics team attend the hearing and show off the robots that they had built.
Heidi Sipe, the Superintendent of the Umatilla school district, who was at the hearing to talk about the effect of ESEA on rural school districts spoke with Jeff afterwards about the impact that a robotics team would have on the Umatilla school district and how rural school districts are largely left out of these types of activities. Jeff agreed that having hands on STEM education in all areas of the state is crucial to providing the best education for our students. He encouraged Heidi to apply for STEM-related grants to launch her idea of a robotics club in rural Oregon.
In 2012, the Umatilla robotics team was born. In 2013, they made it to the national finals. In 2014, they placed 57th in the world robotics championship, an achievement of which the entire community is extremely proud. Heidi and the team attribute their existence and following successes to Jeff, and are grateful that the students in Umatilla now have the opportunity for hands-on education and training in STEM education.