Mentoring FIRST FTC teams inspired my teaching (I teach Computer Science) and invited me into the world of mechanical engineering. I saw my students learn lifelong lessons through interacting with each other, the students they competed with and the many wonderful volunteers who work in the FTC program. If an opportunity like this had been available when I was in high school it would likely have encouraged me (a female) to pursure engineering. I discovered that I LOVE building things!
Going to regional competitions, once as an advisor and once as the parent of a middle schooler, I've been impressed with the enthusiasm of the student participants. The kids really get into the program. They want to do well, for themselves, for their teams and their schools. The kids and the mentors put in additional hours, even beyond their commitments, because they're excited by the challenge. The children show a level of engagement equal to what I've seen in school sports. They're learning how to work together and how to solve problems -- which is something students don't always get in classroom subjects. The commitment I've seen from mentors is equally impressive. As an advisor, I've heard amazing stories about how participation in FIRST has helped children, and has motivated them to major in STEM disciplines in college -- including some students who had never thought they could attend college. I'm very proud my son participated in the FIRST program!
I became involved with FRC as an advisor three years ago. At first, the program seemed daunting as there were no blueprints or designs other than a rule book to follow. This was very frustrating to myself and the students that were involved.
With that being said, FRC has been the best program for both myself and my students to grow in learning how to reason, design for the challenge, utilize resources, collaborate with others, and in general compete with the resources we have at hand. For us, it has brought together multiple groups of students together who would otherwise not cross each others paths. Students who are mathematically and computer science gifted are natually drawn to this program, as are students who excell in fabrication and construction. All talents are required and necessary to make this project successful.
This upcoming season, our FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team is celebrating ten years. We started in 2005with help from other FIRST teams and folks from NASA. We live in Garrett County - a very rural county in the State of Maryland, about an hour or so south of Pittsburgh. The impact of our team is beyond measure - affecting not only our students members but our County as a whole. All of our student members go on to college with at least 95% pursuing STEM careers - many receiving scholarships and entrance to their preferred school as a result of their FIRST experience in high school. In addition to affecting our student members, our team has grown to be the leader for community and school-based STEM education in Garrett County - sponsoring everything from summer tech camps for elementary school students to pumpkin chucking events in conjunction with local fall festivals. It's been wonderful for our team to have competed at the Pittsburgh Regional giving those who live in Garrett County and support our team a greater chance to travel to see a FIRST (FRC) competition.
We began our invlovement with FIRST last year. Our students were very excited about the prospects of building a robot, even though, we had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, we had three veteren teams in our area that pitched in to help us get started and before we knew it, the build season was upon us. It was the longest/shortest 6 weeks of my life! Long hours, everyday, but the weeks flew by as we prepared for the Pittsburgh Regional. As the day finaly arrived, our students were excited beyod containment. The event organizers in Pittsburgh prepared for and ran a flawless competition and our student's were fortunate enough to win the Outstanding Rookie Award as well as qualifying as the top seeded rookie team.
What an experience for our student's! Many of them were able to solidify their career choices as engineers and computer programmers after the experience provided by FIRST and the organizers in Pittsburgh. My thanks to all involved in making this experience a great one for all of my students and the great number of students from all of the other schools represented. I can't wait to go again this coming year. Our students are getting excited as they begin making preparatiions for another build season.
I started volunteering with FIRST in 2008 as an assistant coach. I became a head FRC coach in 2010 and started an FTC team in 2011. The impact FIRST has had on our students is immeasurable. I have watched the kids grow from wide-eyed freshmen to true leaders and professionals. Time spent with FIRST is very well spent, and I plan to continue serving FIRST as long as I can. Personally, I have changed since starting with FIRST. I find myself regularly doing community service now, and I like it! FIRST is an amazing experience for the students, coaches, mentors, and sponsors!