STEM Equity Grant to expand FIRST LEGO League in Kansas City


Kansas City, MO.—FIRST, a robotics community that prepares young people for the future, has awarded the KC STEM Alliance one of five STEM Equity Community Innovation grants to address inequities in access to science and technology for children in countries around the world. The grants directly support students from underserved and underrepresented communities and help community leaders develop new, innovative approaches to close the STEM education gap.

Locally, the KC STEM Alliance will partner with the Kansas City Public Schools to place FIRST LEGO League teams in 20 elementary schools and will help establish three new teams through the Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy, an all-girls charter school. The grant will provide equipment, training and community connection through the teams and qualifier events to create a greater sense of belonging and inclusion for all students.

In FIRST LEGO League Challenge, teams of students engage in research, problem-solving, coding and engineering—building and programming a LEGO robot that navigates the missions of a robot game. Teams also participate in a research project to identify and solve a relevant real-world problem. Local teams can compete in one of five regional qualifying tournaments for a chance to advance to the Greater Kansas City Regional Championship in January.

Ericka Mabion, Assistant Director of Career & Technical Education for KCPS, said students will work together on FIRST LEGO League during the school day with their iSpark teachers. To remove an additional barrier, one of the qualifier events will take place within the district on a Friday during school hours (rather than a Saturday) to allow all students and teachers the option to attend through field trips.

“This expansion will represent that all means all,” Mabion said. “Every sixth grader—no matter their ability or disability—will be able to experience FIRST LEGO League. All KCPS students will know they belong in STEM. Lack of exposure to quality STEM experiences is a major barrier for many urban students. This program addresses those obstacles.”

Two elementary school-age boys focus on their LEGO robot, which is placed on a colorful game mat with other LEGO components.

A scene from the 2023 Greater Kansas City FIRST LEGO League Championship.

Christina Chandler, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging for the KC STEM Alliance, said the organization continues to look for ways to remove barriers for participation in programs that have a proven track record of preparing students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

“The STEM Equity Community Innovation Grant allows us to remove multiple barriers that would previously have prevented students from participating in FIRST,” Chandler said. “Partnering with Kansas City Public Schools and Kansas City Girls Prep allows us to create targeted strategies to engage students who have been historically left out of these opportunities.”

FIRST launched its STEM Equity Community Innovation Grants program in 2016 to provide historically marginalized students across the globe with hands-on learning and creative problem-solving opportunities. For the past seven years grants ranged from $5,000 to $50,000, with an average of $45,000.  For 2023, grants have increased to an award range of $35,000 to $70,000, with an average of $58,000.  These highly competitive grant evaluation criteria include community need, population of students served, increases in diversity, execution strength, track record of reaching all students, and the value of the activities proposed. To date, FIRST has awarded 83 grants totaling $3M to grantees around the world.

KC STEM Alliance is a collaborative network of educators and business partners working to inspire interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers to generate a robust force of related professionals for the Kansas City community. Learn more at