Mentoring FTC

By Stacy Orr, ScriptPro

I truly never knew giving back a little could be so rewarding until I started working with the LEARN Science and Math Club, a group dedicated to bringing science and math to students thru hands on experiences. At Tina Berry’s invitation, this last fall Mike Skaggs and myself, Stacy Orr, signed on as an engineering mentors for the group to build a robot to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition. This is a team-based engineering challenge for high school aged kids, represented by 2500 teams worldwide.

With these kids, we built two robots that could run autonomously, pick up and dump blocks, raise a flag, and suspend itself from a bar, staying aloft even with the power off. Both the kids and the adults worked together to overcome the hardware and software technical challenges, making a first rate robot that did well enough in to qualifying competitions to advance to and shine in the Missouri State competition and then Super-Regionals. The technical challenges, though, were only a piece of the puzzle. Not only were the kids there to compete, they worked in alliances with other teams. Each alliance had to take the strengths of each team and optimize their strategies to win a round. In the next round, the kids had to work with a new team and develop a new Alliance. A presentation from the kids for the competition judges gave me goose bumps, listening to the energy and enthusiasm and technical prowess they displayed. Their engineering notebook was second to none, from both a technical and a marketing standpoint. To do well in this competition, you must be well rounded in so many skills: technical, teamwork, research, oral and written presentation, and nerves of steel to keep the focus while you’re racing.

We got the fun stuff – making and watching robot competitions, but the kids had a bigger job. To carry out their mission of sharing their love of hands-on technology with younger students, the kids undertook an abundance of additional projects throughout the year, including City Imagineering, where kids built model cities from recycled materials, Engineering Extravaganza where kids designed and built such necessary devices as Pooper Scoopers, Marshmallow Catapults and Zip Lines for ducks. Geeks vs. Geeks gave the kids an opportunity to mentor adults as corporate teams came together to compete with each other in robotics challenges.

Mike Skaggs taught CAD lessons to the kids, teaching a little technique, then allowing the kids to experiment and design their own creations. The previous year, after much research, the kids developed and provisionally patented a product called Script Alert, a prescription compliance device, winning them recognition and a grant from MIT.

What an amazing group this is to be part of. And, the mission of the group is carried out one child at a time, using the principle of gracious professionalism to foster these children to confident, capable, successful leaders in their life pursuits. I can’t wait to do it again!