February 12, 2016
Caterpillar is reporting weekly on the progress of our Caterpillar-sponsored and mentored FIRST Robotics Competition teams as they complete the robotics “build season” – an intense six-week window where high school students are presented an engineering challenge and are required to design, build and program a workable solution from scratch.
We’ve previously shared details about the challenge of the game, the exciting chaos that is competition season, and the process these students go through to choose their best robot design. This week, we want to go beyond the robot and speak to the greater purpose of FIRST: helping engage communities with the idea that science, math and engineering can be as exciting as sports. We asked Andrea Brazzale-Anderson, an engineering manager in Caterpillar’s Industrial & Waste Group and FIRST Robotics mentor, to share her perspective. Andrea and her husband, Mark – who is also an engineer and works as a commercial manager in Job Site Solutions – founded FIRST Team #2338, Gear It Forward, in 2007.
Week 5: Community Outreach and the Impact of FIRST
One of my crystalizing moments as a mentor for our Caterpillar-sponsored FIRST Robotics team, Gear It Forward, came when we participated in a junior high career fair in a small farming community west of the Aurora, Illinois, plant. A student said, “Woah, pretty cool what your parents built!” To combat that relatively common misunderstanding of how FIRST Robotics works, our team now proudly displays a giant sign on our robot that reads: “High School Students Built This Robot, You Can Too!” This sign is one of our outward expressions of community engagement.
Not unlike Caterpillar’s internal recognitions, the highest honor for a FIRST Robotics team is the Chairman’s Award. It honors “the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.” Chairman’s Award winning teams show sustained excellence over many years. They engage their students. They spread the message of FIRST and reach out to the community. And, they consistently display the core values of FIRST, living them every day. In 2015, our team won the Midwest Regional Chairman’s Award, and later went on to place fourth at the World Championships. For Team 2338, robotics is a year-round sport and we work to exude the FIRST spirit in our communities 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Here are some of the highlights taken from the students’ award-winning submission:
- Started as a team of 12 students in 2008 and grew interest in robotics to over 100 students in 2016
- The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team is now comprised of 58 students, and the team started three FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) teams with 35 students as a way to engage all interested students and deliver the team’s promise of a hands-on robotics experience
- Supports 25 FIRST Lego League (FLL) and Jr. FLL teams in their school district
- 35% of their students are mentors to other FIRST teams, with 43% of those mentors are female
- 26% of the team is made up of Gear It Forward siblings
- Established “2338 University,” a six-week student leadership development program with 25 graduates to date
- Spread the message of FIRST to more than 100,000 people through news media, a Kane County Cougars robot night, “Take Your Daughter to Work” events, Northern Illinois University STEM Fest, and other local community festivals
- 20% of their students, after participating in the season, have changed their college aspirations to STEM (beyond those already planning to pursue STEM careers)
We are proud of these statistics, awards and accomplishments, but they do not describe the true spirit of the Gear It Forward team and FIRST Robotics culture. In the FIRST community, the term “gracious professionalism” is used to describe our collaborative and yet competitive spirit. As an example of how Gear It Forward deploys “gracious professionalism,” look no further than the first tournament we participated in. During our first Midwest Regional, several of our mentors and students disappeared for hours on end to help multiple teams fix their robots and get them on the field. We just happened to have four Caterpillar Large Wheel Loader Performance & Controls engineers that knew how to program a robot! The following year, several students and mentors helped a team build their robot, literally, from loose parts they brought in boxes, or were donated from other teams. And, it happened again the next year, too. In most cases, we have provided our assistance to inner city schools where the team is small and the mentors are enthusiastic, but do not have the engineering background to effectively guide the students through the process. The Gear It Forward students work side-by-side with the team and mentor them through the decision-making, turning the wrenches, and testing the robot during the first day of competition. The adult mentor is just an observer and a cheerleader in the process. This has become part of Gear It Forward’s brand, so much so that the lead FIRST inspector hunts us down at every competition and says, “Please go help fix that ‘bot over there.”
As one of the cofounders of the team, to me, this is our greatest legacy, and I get choked up every time I tell the story. It is about more than winning a robot competition. It is about helping our young people become productive, valuable, helpful members of society. It is about showing others what it means to be both gracious and professional, in competition, in school and in the community. It is about sharing your passion for engineering with others, and finding the absolute joy in working with a complete stranger to help make them a success. It is about showing students that they can do anything they put their mind to, and demonstrating that high school students built this ‘bot, and anyone can too.
About Gear It Forward
Based in the neighboring communities of Aurora and Joliet, Illinois, Team #2338, Gear It Forward, are competing in their ninth season of FIRST Robotics. The team has 58 students from Oswego and Oswego East High Schools. Due to their explosive growth, they have started three FIRST Tech Challenge teams and 25 FIRST Lego League and Junior FIRST Lego League teams to give their “Gears in Training” a hands-on robotics experience. Gear It Forward will be competing in the Arkansas Rock City Regional in Little Rock, March 10-12, and the Midwest Regional in Chicago, March 30 – April 2.