Scott Heister, an engineering and physics teacher, began mentoring his high school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team in his home state of Michigan 19 years ago. Since then, the robotics program has overcome their fair share of obstacles, including nearby factories shutting and decreased funding for their program, while working hard to transform culture in their school and build leaders in STEM.
Grizzly Robotics, the name the team now goes by, has since changed the face of education in their community of Ypsilanti, Michigan, a city where violence, drugs, and crime are all too common.
The Grizzly Robotics team acts as a safe haven for Heister’s students and has inspired positive transformations. Being a part of the robotics team has helped these young people discover and develop new interests, gain self-confidence, and become engaged in their own learning and success.
In 2013, because of decreasing enrollment, increasing debt and low academic success, Willow Run School, Grizzly Robotics’ home base, and Ypsilanti Schools, a nearby district, merged.
Inspired by the tenets of FIRST, Scott Heister pushed for the newly formed district to redesign and build a school around the principles of FIRST. He was successful, and the Ypsilanti STEMM Middle College was born. In the four years since the school opened its doors, they have seen tremendous success in increased graduation rates, decreased suspension rates, and college attrition; the school’s graduation rate has increased from 69% to 97%, and their daily attendance rate has increased from 85% percent to 92%.