This is year two for me covering the annual FIRST Robotics competition held at RIT. As you can tell, I’m still fascinated by the pageantry, and equally impressed with how serious folks take this—and pass on the traditions!
The FIRST Robotics family continues to grow. Its fans are young and young-at-heart. Former players turn into mentors. And many of those student-mentors become technology professionals who build the robots right along with the newest participants from schools across the country. They all came together to pack the RIT Field House this past weekend for Breakaway. In their usual fashion, FIRST teams were decked out with blue hair, sparkles on their capes and chicken costumes. (Probably the biggest and best supporters of the Thunder Chickens, Team 217 from Sterling, Michigan.)
FIRST Supporters and prospective supporters had a chance to learn more about the organization and its impact on young people from two former players: JP Hayden and Kyle Cody. Both first year students at RIT told the group of event sponsors that FIRST was a life changing opportunity, and that working on building a robot with a project team was as close to a real-world career experience as a teenager could get.
JP, a first year physics student and mentor for his alma mater, Spencerport High School, told me, “I had never built a robot before joining the robotics team.” He thrived on the ideas generated by the team, and enjoyed seeing how the different ideas from the different players all worked together for one purpose.
Kyle, a first year mechanical engineering student, had similar sentiments. Good designs, he says, influence great execution. Kyle said he heard about FIRST in a Principles of Engineering class he attended while at Edison Tech. He accepted the invitation to join the team. “It would change who I would become,” he says, adding that the change in him came both academically, where he graduated third in his class, to confidence socially.
Both young men made quite an impression on the assembled guests, one of which was Jean Claude Brizard, superintendent of the Rochester City School District. In Brizard’s address to the group, he shared that he too is a FIRST alum. His Long Island high school team is a Chairman’s Award recipient, one of the most prestigious of the annual awards given to schools. It is given to the team that most inspires others in the areas of science and technology.
FIRST leaders are like rock stars. Paul Gudonis, president of FIRST traveled to the Rochester competition after spending the previous day in New Orleans at the Bayou Regional. He was mobbed, but had time for everybody, including RIT graduate (’05 software engineering) and FIRST Alum from Wilson Magnet HS, Brian Wilson, who said it was so cool to meet and talk to him.
Set up for an event this large takes a few days with the requisite playing floor, obstacles, electronics, sound equipment and game elements. And then—a sea of teenagers, robots, referees, judges, supporters, fans and friends fill the arena— and the competition begins! Check out more of the the event in photos: www.facebook.com/RITfb#!/RITfb?v=photos