I got involved with FIRST robotics when our 6th grade daughter joined a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team in 2006. I went along as a parent and started helping. When our daughter moved up to high school, she and I joined Shenendehowa’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Team 20, the Rocketeers. I joined the FIRST teams to support our daughter, and because they aligned with my life-long zeal for designing and building things.
FIRST gives us a new robotics challenge to solve each year and only six weeks in which to solve it. We have an interesting collection of materials and tools to use, and a diverse group of talented, motivated people to work with. It’s a win-win-win situation: I can share my knowledge and experience with others who learn from and appreciate it, I am learning a tremendous range of new things from them, and we all have a lot of fun.
Oh, by the way, 70% of the people I’m working with are students. They are the reason I continue to get more involved, even after our daughter graduated and moved on. Our students go from quiet, shy freshmen who don’t know which way to turn a wrench, to sophomores who are helping with machining, to juniors who independently do all the wiring and pneumatics on our practice robot, to seniors who design complete mechanisms and work with younger students to build them, to college students who volunteer as mentors for our and other teams.
In addition to building a robot from scratch (and every robot is different – the game changes every year, and each team makes its own design and strategy decisions), they are creating computer animations, building and maintaining a web site, writing blogs and newsletters and award nominations, scouting other robots, negotiating strategy with other teams, and learning and practicing leadership skills. We are developing the engineers and scientists and leaders of tomorrow. It’s tremendously inspiring and energizing (and sometimes rather loud) to work with them. It’s even more fun when it all comes together well and our hard work yields good results at competitions. The four GE-mentored teams all won awards in March at the NY Tech Valley competition – the first ever held in the Capital District area.
The video below shows some of the competition and highlights the importance of mentors and corporate sponsors working with students to teach STEM skills and provide hands-on experience. Wouldn’t you like to get involved and help mentor and inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists, and leaders?