Sharing our Expertise
Youngsters Shine Through FIRST Robotics
Boeing Photo: Tim Houston
For Long Beach engineering manager Terry Strouse, helping her team of high schoolers place first at the 2010 FIRST™ (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics World Championship in Atlanta was like winning the Super Bowl.
"The level of intensity and enthusiasm exhibited by all of the teams at the championship was amazing -- it was like being at a professional sporting event," said Strouse, who mentored the team that led a three-team coalition that finished first overall. “Our team learned to set requirements and create a plan before they started building their robot, just like any engineering project.”
FIRST is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging young people to become science and technology leaders. More than 10,000 youngsters from more than 500 teams and 30 countries competed in this year's championship. Twenty teams with a Boeing connection made it to the event, which capped off two months of regional competitions.
Boeing continues to inspire the engineers and scientists of tomorrow through investments in education and quality programs like FIRST that encourage young people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"I salute the hundreds of Boeing employees who serve as FIRST mentors and who help FIRST deliver on its mission to provide accessible, innovative robotics," said Rick Stephens, Boeing senior vice president, Human Resources and Administration, during the closing ceremonies. "Employee mentors not only serve as role models for their teams, but they also gain valuable leadership skills in the process. Students learn self-confidence, communication and leadership skills, so it's a win-win for all involved."
Photo: KATHERINE MARTUCCI
Those who earned a champion spot had a chance to hear Rick Stephens, Boeing's senior vice president of Human Resources and Administration, thank team mentors, teachers, parents and volunteers for helping to develop the next generation of innovators and prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs and careers.
"I salute the hundreds of Boeing employees who serve as FIRST mentors and who help FIRST deliver on its mission to provide accessible, innovative robotics," Stephens told the audience during the closing ceremonies. "Employee mentors not only serve as role models for their teams, but they also gain valuable leadership skills in the process. Students learn self-confidence, communication and leadership skills, so it's a win-win for all involved."
Earning a spot at the championship is a great achievement, but it was not the only chance the Boeing employee mentors and their enthusiastic teams had to shine this season. Earlier this spring, the students put their robot-building skills to the test by participating in regional FIRST competitions held at arenas and convention centers across the country.
At these competitions, teams are judged not only on their ability to meet the challenge but also on the collaboration and the determination of its members.
Boeing teams participated in 30 of the 44 regionals, with a total of 164 teams from across the country receiving support to compete through the company's commitment for the national partnership. Of the 118 teams with Boeing mentors that received funding through this partnership, 61 won some type of award and 34 achieved finalist placement at a regional event. Boeing's success even went international this year: a Boeing-mentored team took home the Competition Award at the Israel regional in Tel Aviv.
Before entering a FIRST regional competition, each team spent six weeks designing and building a robot using a kit of parts with motors, batteries and a mix of automation components – but no instructions – under the guidance of their team mentors.
Teams designed the robots to meet a specific engineering challenge. The challenge -- dubbed "Breakaway" -- was to get as many soccer balls in a goal as possible during the allotted time.
"Our team wouldn't have competed this season without Boeing's help," said Pam Greyer, director of the NASA Aerospace Education Lab in Chicago, who served as mentor of a Boeing-sponsored team that competed at the Chicago regional. "Going to the regional was a great opportunity for the kids to see what engineering is about as a career and helped expose them to what sponsoring companies like Boeing have to offer."
Propulsion engineer Grace Balut Ostrom volunteered as a mentor for the FIRST team at Newport High School in Bellevue, Wash.
"We mimic a small company, with a president, a vice president of engineering, a vice president of marketing, and sub-groups that include build, electrical, programming, fundraising, visual design and public relations," Ostrom said. "It's a great program because it's not just the engineering side of it. It's like running a business."
Ostrom is "the glue that holds this team together," one student wrote in a nomination essay that helped her win a mentoring award for the Pacific Northwest region. Ostrom made the trip to Atlanta for the world championship to staff a Boeing booth where kids could learn about professional engineering challenges.
"One kid came by five times just to talk about engineering," she said. "It actually got to the point where he was trying to provide suggestions to me for how we could improve our airplanes."
And there was another student, a girl, who had doubts about her engineering aptitude. Ostrom shared what someone told her when she was younger: "If you think you want to go into engineering, you should just go for it. I feel like I paid back the favor," Ostrom recalled.
The Newport High School team didn't advance to the world championship, but its robot took "most creative" honors in the regional competition. The robot's features included a student-designed and -built tank drive, two-speed gearbox, variable strength ball-kicker able to score from any part of the field with camera targeting, gyroscopic navigation and a heads-up display.
Add to that list the fact the robot's creators had a variable-strength, heads-up mentor.
For details on the FIRST organization, go to their national home page: http://usfirst.org.