Amara Small had already spent 11 years working on coding and building robots when she joined the robotics team at the School at Marygrove in her junior year.
"I’ve been super into that since I was really young, because it’s like a sport really,- said Small, whose mother is an engineer. "And that’s so much different from building robots at your house. It’s very competitive and the hands-on work is a lot more rigorous.-
She credits team coach Leon Pryor for expanding her coding language and developing her into a team player.
"He’s great at guiding you through a problem without telling you ’this is the answer,’- Small said. "The ability to be able to develop as an engineer, the ability to fully wire a robot from scratch or fully build a robot, like cutting with power tools, designing the robot, and being able to code a full robot from scratch with an autonomous mode, these are all super valuable skills that a lot of us didn’t have.-
U-M alumnus Leon Pryor helped create the Motor City Alliance, a 501c3 that works with more than 100 metro Detroit elementary and middle school robotics teams to help them compete and win national robotics competitions.Leon Pryor, a University of Michigan alum and a senior game producer at Meta, got involved in robotics competitions with his son in 2018. He led Detroit’s FLICS School team to the World Championship in Houston earlier this year.
Michigan will see more than 16,000 job openings in STEM fields annually through 2028, according to a recent report of long-term employment projections from the state’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.
"There’s a time where you could have a manufacturing job and make six figures and do really well,- Pryor said. "Well, those things have shifted because of automation and things moving offshore. We have to train our kids for 21st-century jobs.-
Being on the robotics team isn’t easy. In the span of 10 to 12 weeks, students do the equivalent of a 500-level engineering course that starts with giving them a difficult problem.
"They’re not given any instructions, any guidance. They don’t have enough resources to get it done,- Pryor said. "It’s kind of like real life. The kids that can successfully navigate that are set up for any career in any field.-
Tymon Ray, whose son, Ryan Ray, is on the robotics team at Marygrove, said he was impressed with how Pryor made the team’s culture a top priority.
"It’s teamwork. It’s being on time. It’s helping each other out. It’s sacrificing for the team. It’s doing your part. Even if you’re not as involved, be a cheerleader for your team,- Ray said. "So those are just a few things, but I think those are pretty important. And I think those carry over into life, period.-
Tymon Ray, whose son Ryan Ray is on the robotics team at Marygrove, said he was really impressed with how Pryor made the team’s culture a top priority. "It’s teamwork. It’s being on time. It’s helping each other out...-
Coach Leon Pryor works with the robotics team at the School at Marygrove, Detroit. "We are actually making some fundamental changes for the better for a lot of families in Detroit.-