How can these kids gain the knowledge and money necessary to build robots… real robots? The FIRST Robotics foundation is the vision of world renowned inventor, Dean Kamen. Though Mr. Kamen has donated a huge amount of time and money, it is with the help of other corporate sponsors and mentors that the organization has been able to flower. In fact, at this years Western Regional competition, the robot named “Miss Daisy” was able to travel from Pennsylvania to Southern California due to the gracious professionalism of the sponsors and mentors. (Gracious professionalism is one of the principles the organization is built upon — teaching the students how to be more than just good sports.)
The Western Regional competition has several corporate sponsors that include BAE Systems and Motorola. Unfortunately for many of the schools, the current economic environment has brought about a huge decline in corporate sponsors. When asked about sponsorship, Steve Stark of the Motorola Corporation said, “The sponsors are important but it’s the mentors that really make FIRST special.” Mentors are volunteer adults that help the teams build and grow. “The mentors get to work with the kids and show them about the real world. One of the key points of FIRST are these mentors. They help educate the students about the big picture, how to make a plan, reach out to the community, get funding and build a working robot. The mentors are often adults experienced in the corporate world. People that work in fields, such as, engineering, mathematics and the sciences are hands-on with the children.”
Motorola has a Philanthropy Division that helps to fund school teams and regional competitions. Without this type of corporate stewardship, these types of programs would not be possible.
One of the teams at the Western Regional is Team 2599 the Alternative Education School of Chula Vista, CA. The school is made up of students that often have not been accepted by the traditional education system. In addition, the students usually do not have the financial support necessary to excel. FIRST robotics has helped change the life of the kids in the community. Stefania Mendizabal is a senior from Chula Vista. She said, “FIRST inspires. Our sponsors, Qualcomm, Boeing, AT&T, Best Buy, Olive Garden, The Home Depot You Auto Know, Albertsons, Goodrich, Dixieline, BAE Systems, WalMart, Vons and Dynegy have help make our team possible. Dynegy has been unbelievable. They sent out mentors to work with us.” Though it’s Stefania’s first year in FIRST, the experience has been life changing. Now, she is considering continued education and a career as an engineer, scientist or in public relations. Public relations might just be her calling. Today she pursued the job of ambassador. An ambassador at a FIRST event meets with potential sponsors, government officials and other VIPs to promote support for the FIRST organization. She also hopes to meet with teachers and students from elementary schools that will be attending the event to help spread her enthusiasm.
Dennis Jenks, the FIRST Engineering Technical Coordinator for Land and Armaments from BAE Systems, has been involved with FIRST for eleven years. Speaking with him for just a moment reveals his vigor for robotics. Because of Mr. Jenks security clearance, he was not able to discuss the details of how FIRST has impacted his own career. Fortunately, he was able to provide a living example of a completed FIRST cycle.
Mr. Jenks met Travis at the beginning of his robotics experience. Their paths crossed many time over the years. Travis joined a robotics team in high school. After graduating, he moved away to college. Life just was not the same with a robotics team. He became closer friends with a student that had been on another robotics team in high school. They both were interested in being mentors for a robotics team. The problem — there was no local high school with a team. The solution — find a school and start a team. That is exactly what they did. This caused Travis’s and Mr. Jenks paths to criss and cross some more.
Upon graduating from college, Mr. Jenks was influential in Travis being hired by BEA Systems. “Travis’s involvement in FIRST robotics was definitely a major factor in my interest in bringing him on board with BAE.”
What are a child’s chances of a prosperous career from joining the high school football team or basketball team? On the other hand, FIRST robotics has a generous supply of college scholarships and job placement.