The Columbia Educational Robotics Foundation (CERF) is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2015.

The purpose of the Columbia Educational Robotics Foundation is to support mentor-based youth robotics programs that inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

CERF was founded as the umbrella organization for FIRST® Robotics Competition team #3792, Army Ants, a city-wide high school robotics team. As the interest has grown, CERF has expanded our mission to be a support organization for all local K-12 FIRST® teams and other youth robotics programs.  Our work includes:

  • Organizing and running the annual Columbia FIRST® LEGO League qualifier tournament
  • Organizing and running “Coopertition” events for grades 4 – 8 to showcase FIRST® robotics teams, connect experienced teams with new teams, and teach coding and robot-building skills to help launch new teams
  • Provide orientation and mentorship to new coaches
  • Provide funds and equipment to help new teams get started
  • Seek donations and grants to support the growth of FIRST® educational robotics programs in the Columbia area
  • Advocate with Columbia Public Schools to support teacher-coaches and extracurricular robotics programs
  • Connect high school, college student and adult STEM professionals with teams and coaches that need mentors.
  • Celebrate the achievements and learning of all FIRST® youth robotics participants

CERF has a board of directors composed of team coaches/mentors, community members, team parent representatives and student team representatives to guide decisions and activities.

CERF is always looking for companies and organizations to support our mission.  Your organization can sponsor a new or existing team, sponsor an event such as the annual FIRST LEGO League Columbia tournament, sponsor a team trip to an out-of-state tournament, or donate to CERF to support all youth robotics activities based on priority needs.

In 2022, as teams were re-activating after two years of COVID hiatus,  Veterans United Foundation gave $10,000 to CERF to pay for Columbia-area FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge team registration fees and to support two new teams.  Thank you, VU!

To find out how you can support local FIRST robotics teams, contact Dr. Kevin Gillis, board chair,