Appalachian Laboratory

Inspiration Award

About the Inspiration Award

Appalachian Laboratory Inspiration Award for April 2023 award celebration.
Launched in commemoration of the Appalachian Laboratory’s 60th anniversary in 2022, the Inspiration Award recognizes those in the region who share the Lab’s commitment to future generations by supporting or engaging in activities to promote and advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in our region.  Nominations open annually in September with winners selected in November. The award is presented at a ceremony held in the spring. 
Individuals, government agencies, nonprofits, and for-profit entities are eligible. Nominees must be engaged in or supporting programming in the Laboratory’s defined region, which includes western Maryland and surrounding areas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Western Maryland is defined as Allegany, Garrett, and Washington counties in Maryland; the surrounding area is defined as Bedford, Fulton, and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania or Mineral, Morgan, Preston, and Hampshire counties in West Virginia.
Contact Rhonda Schwinabart, Outreach Coordinator, at 301-689-7102 or with any award-related questions.

2024 Winner: Team 1629 Garrett Coalition (GaCo)

Team 1629 Garrett Coalition (GaCo)
Team 1629 Garrett Coalition (GACO) has been selected as the 2024 winner of the Appalachian Laboratory Inspiration Award! The award will be presented at a ceremony in the spring. Invitations will be sent.
First established in January 2004, GaCo, based in Garrett County, Maryland, is a FIRST robotics team composed of twenty-two students from Northern and Southern High Schools.  The team has consistently competed at the district, regional, and world levels and has been the recipient of the prestigious Chairman’s Award at eighteen competitions. In 2022, the team was recognized with the Chairman’s Award at the world championship. The Chairman’s Award, the highest honor conferred by FIRST, is presented to the team that has had the most significant and measurable impact on their schools and communities. In 2023, GaCo was inducted into the FIRST Hall of Fame.
In addition to competing, GaCo team members also serve as mentors and coaches to thirty-five younger teams including twenty-six FIRST LEGO League teams (grades 4-8) and nine FIRST Tech Challenge teams (grades 7-10), as well as additional teams in Preston County, WV and Pennsylvania.
About 85% of former GaCo students are now pursuing or have entered STEM careers.
STEM Lessons
To meet GaCo’s vision of “All kids-STEM Ready,” team members have developed and taught “Waypoint” lessons to every student in the Garrett County School system for the past eleven years.  Lessons engage second, third, fourth and fifth grade students in standards-based activities designed to develop skills essential for STEM success, including spatial reasoning, proportionality, and computational thinking. More than 6,000 students have participated in these activities.  
Team members also make these activities available through community organizations such as Landon’s Library, Samantha Funding the Arts and the Mountain Lake Park Chautauqua. In summer 2023, team members taught two summer camps in partnership with Garrett Arts Council on behalf of the Smithsonian to students from across the United States.
GaCo is currently in its second round of funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to replicate its program to other rural school districts.
More Information
Learn more about GaCo by visiting their website.

Past Winners

REACT's Michael Fiscus, Lesa Edwards, Jessica Mellon and Barry Hartung with award.
2023: REACT 
Robotics and Engineering in Allegany County--Together, Inc. (REACT) is a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit whose mission is “to develop engaging and fun robotics learning and character building experiences for all young people throughout Allegany County. We challenge students to use critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills to address real-world problems.” 
REACT works to give Allegany County students world-class robotics learning experiences. Since its founding, REACT has trained coaches and raised money to provide robotics equipment for local competition teams. Under the current leadership, Allegany County robotics has grown from 4 teams to 25 teams, and the number of students served grew from 35 to over 800 in just 5 years!