I have been a FIRST® robotics mentor since 2009.   I’m so glad my daughter decided her freshman year to join the robotics team.  My first robotics season as a new parent was more than overwhelming, as I was clueless as to what was happening around me and to what I was about to get involved.

I attended my first competition at Kettering University.  Oh my, was it loud!  Definitely not the place to be when you have the beginnings of a head cold.  Yet there I was, in the middle of it all.  The sound system was booming with music and play by play from the announcer, students were cheering raucously in the stands and dancing in the isles, robots were competing on the field, with still more students and mentors in the pits working on their robots.  I could not tell you who won the competition or what awards were even given out, but I do remember the excitement showed by students, mentors, judges, referees, and parents alike.  Little did I know then that I would become a part of FIRST® for this long!

After that first competition, I learned how the team worked from other parents and mentors.  I began to understand how the game was played and the time put in by both students and mentors for team building, designing, building and finally programming the robot.  All of it accomplished in six short weeks to play the season-specific game.

After that first season, I was hooked.  I began helping the team in a variety of ways, starting with coordinating lunches and dinners during competitions.  From there, I helped in any way possible, eventually becoming a strategy mentor, assisting the students with developing scouting and strategy programs.  Though it all, I coordinated team uniforms and SWAG (stuff we all get), researching and ordering based on the students’ ideas and requests.  Over the years, the team has given out buttons, magnets, lanyards, pens and notepads, all with the idea of becoming known throughout the FIRST® community.  Once my daughter graduated in 2012, I continued on, as my step-son soon joined the team.

The year 2013 was a challenge, as the team struggled to finish designing, building and programming the robot.  Mentors thought this was going to be a long, tough season.  Three days before the robot was required to be completed, students and mechanical mentors finally decided on a build design.  During those three remaining days, they powered through finishing what they expected to be a lackluster machine.  During the first competition, the entire team prepared for a long weekend.  It sure was, but not what we expected.  It did, in fact, turn out to be the most exciting and fun competition we ever attended.  The students were smiling, laughing and having fun because the robot was sitting in first place at the end of the first day of competition.  Who would have thought that just three days earlier?  We returned on Saturday just hoping to remain in first or second place for alliance selections.  We ended up ranked in first place and then continued on to win our first competition team history.  It was a glorious sight to see our entire team rush the field smiling, crying and hugging each other with excitement.  No one else in the room knew the struggles this team had gone thru just to get a functioning robot on the floor.  All of that stress, however, just faded away as we celebrated as a team.

Becoming a mentor has been extremely rewarding.  I love watching students come through the FIRST® program.  Starting as shy, timid freshmen, they blossom into confident, articulate, well-spoken young men and women as seniors.  They are no longer afraid to present ideas, speak publicly, or think outside the box.  They stop worrying about failure, which itself breeds success.  They learn to compromise and work both within a group and independently, and while helping one another they give back with service to their community.  Working together to solve a problem, learning, inspiring youth and teaching one another is what a mentor means to me.  It is the greatest feeling known you have helped in shaping or changing a student’s life.

Click on the video below!  It explains what is FIRST® and why I am a mentor.

The 2017 FIRST® Robotics Competition game is called FIRST Steamworks.  Below is a video explaining how the game is played.