Grants Plant Seeds to Help FIRST® LEGO® League Grow

Students with Genesis Youth
Foundation working to solve FIRST
LEGO League challenges.

Two major sources of grant money are helping Iowa organizers of FIRST LEGO League (FLL) increase access to programs promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to Iowa youth.

FLL Explore, formerly known as FIRST LEGO League Junior, is one of two programs created to help elementary school students grow in their use of STEM skills. This year it was included as part of the 2021 STEM Scale-Up program, which was created by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to provide schools and other organizations with free access to roughly a dozen STEM programs each year.

At the same time, a grant from Microsoft Community Challenge is helping FLL launch new teams with an underserved population in metropolitan Des Moines.

Camille Sloan Schroeder, director of K–12 outreach programs at Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, said she hopes both grants will lead new groups of Iowans to get involved and stay involved in STEM education.

“The basic idea behind the Scale-Up program is that people who otherwise wouldn’t have these programs or have the means to take advantage of them now would be able to do that,” she said. “It’s a nice way to get up and get going and begin building the relationships that you need to make it sustainable over the long term.”

Across the state, Iowa companies regularly donate money, time, and expertise to help FLL teams compete. The assistance both helps children learn and helps companies make a positive impression on the next generation.

Founded in 1998, FIRST LEGO League Challenge is a research and robotics-based problem-solving program for children ages 9 to 14. FLL Explore features teams of children ages 6 to 10. Both use robotics, research, coding skills, and engaging showcase events to make learning and team problem-solving more attractive to young Iowans. The goal also is to promote interest in how such skills can lead to a future in fields such as engineering.

“Many children do not have anyone in their social sphere to talk with about engineering and to tell them what engineers do,” Sloan Schroeder said. “If you don’t have somebody sharing that with you, you might not know that’s an opportunity for you.”

Sloan Schroeder said the Microsoft Community Challenge grant is being used by Genesis Youth Foundation to launch FLL teams for diverse Des Moines-area youth.

“Funding like the Microsoft grant is a great way to bring new organizations into the FLL community,” she said. “It just takes some kind of catalyst to put good things in motion.”

For more information, contact Camille Sloan Schroeder at or 515-294-4293.


A version of this article was published in the Spring 2021 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.