If you are unfamiliar with FIRST robotics, you should get yourself familiarized.
The FIRST Robotics Competition (or FRC for short) is an international robotics competition where teams ranging from twenty to one hundred students build game-playing, 120-pound robots in just six weeks to compete in tournaments all across the globe.
If you are a freshman through senior in high school, you are eligible to join. Though there are hundreds of reasons you should be a part of FIRST, here are five to get you started:
1.) There is no high school activity more like the real world
While I was involved in FIRST, I was operating drills and drill presses, miter saws and band saws and making real-life engineering decisions. I worked on CAD models, went and talked to manufacturing companies, and did volunteer work. I was able to experience first-hand what it's like to be a in a project leader role, including all the pressure and dynamics that go along with it. Even if you won't be in a leadership role, FIRST robotics is by far the most real-world high school activity I have had the pleasure of being involved in.
And FIRST is not just for engineering fanatics. There are other sides to FIRST that require diverse skills. There are people on my team in charge of the website design, public relations for the team and even a student CEO that manages overall organization. There is something for everyone, and everyone can learn something.
2.) The people and networking opportunities you have
At every regional tournament in FRC, there are always adults from the engineering and science workforce that come to help out as volunteers or judges. Some come as mentors, coaches or even sponsors, as they find the atmosphere of FIRST just as engaging as the kids. Beyond being able to meet and greet these networking opportunities at competition, the mentors and coaches you're able to interact with all season long are there to provide wisdom and knowledge you could never have received at school.
More than just the networking, though, the friends and students I have met in my FIRST robotics experience have been some of the greatest people I have ever met. They are competent, intelligent, ambitious, just all-around great people. You become a better person just being around them.
3.) You get to be your wild, crazy self
Every single team involved in FRC has a "theme." To name just a few, there is the FBI, the Kraken, Robobroncs and my own team, Rocky Mountain Robotics. Similar to car racing, at robotics competitions, there are "pit areas," where every team can fix and maintenance their robot. Teams always decorate their pit areas in accordance to their themes; the FBI team, for example, covers their pit in "DO NOT CROSS" tape.
And to match the pit areas are crazy team outfits. My own team wears climbing hats and ropes, and our team colors are blue and yellow. Analogous to football or soccer, robotics teams can also have mascots. These mascots get just as crazy as those out on a football field.
Despite all the color-coding and dress-up, the real part of robotics is the cheering and the craze. Stadiums can literally pulse with the festivities and excitement. And the best part about it: no one cares what you look like, that you're dancing like a fool, or that you have colored your hair with team colors. Fact of the matter is, they're probably doing it right alongside you. At robotics competition, your wild side can come out to roam.
4.) The great scholarship opportunities
Yes, that's right. There's money involved. And lots of it. Even if you're involved in FIRST for just one year, there are a plethora of scholarships available to a variety of schools. From the Ivy Leagues to state public schools, and from full rides to 5,000 a year, there is a scholarship from FIRST for everyone.
5.) The gracious professional environment
The skills you will learn from being a part of FIRST robotics goes so far beyond knowing the right tool to use, or how to figure out a center of mass problem. In addition to the problem-solving and general technical know-how I gained from FIRST, I have also acquired other professional skills necessary in the real-world work environment.
As part of the drive team this year (responsible for driving the robot on the competition field), I had to go and talk to other robot teams before every match to know their game strategy. This required social and soft skills in order to communicate. The student CEO on my team had to give a chairman's award presentation to a group of judges, and another student leader was selected for a Dean's List scholarship (money opportunity!), in which he had to interview. Just walking through the pits you have to explain your business plan and robot to judges, talk with other teams about scouting and, if you are in the stands cheering, you have to be positive and cheering for all teams, not just your own. This goes off the idea of "gracious professionalism," a motto coined by the founder of FRC. Being in this environment, and having this motto be integrated into your life, impacts you for the better.
As a senior, my last robotics competition just happened this past weekend. Though I will be continuing on with mechanical engineering for my career, I am nostalgic to see it go.
But look at me! I'm nostalgic about robotics ending. That must mean it's good...so what are you waiting for? Go join!
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