The varsity Sport for the Mind, FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It's as close to "real-world engineering" as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.
We start our adventure with FIRST Looks at the 18th Annual FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional. This year there are 63 competing teams, and we will speak to representatives of some of them, as well as sponsors, mentors, league Partners and Regional Director Terri Willingham.
One of the most interesting parts of the FIRST community is that many students never leave. After graduation, many of us continue to participate as judges, referees, mentors and sponsors. Libby Eastman from Team Banana (FRC 945) has returned to FIRST as a team mentor after being part of the program as a student. We talk to her about her experiences on both sides of the program.
All FRC team members have to have an initial season, which is the case for Sam Estes from Torque Team (FRC 5283). He has joined the team's new business team, which is responsible for ensuring the whole team has enough money to support the season, as well as helps implementing fundraising efforts. We talk to him about his experience in FIRST, his team and his thoughts on the game.
While some of our students start with FIRST Robotics Competition, others like Marie Bartnick from S.P.A.M. (FRC 180) get their starts with FIRST LEGO League and graduate into the bigger programs. She discusses with us her experiences in both leagues, the things she has learned and the challenges her team faced during this year's game.
One of the challenges that every FIRST team from any league faces is mentorship. Some teams find individuals who are well-versed in a particular aspect of FIRST to help, while others find an organization that can provide multiple mentors in a variety of areas. The latter is how Exploding Bacon (FRC 1902) runs, getting help from Comcast, in particular Universal Parks. Matthew Miller helps coordinate volunteers from the company to mentor the team in everything from engineering to outreach. When he's not doing that, he works within the parks to research and implement new technology for future attractions. We talk about why Comcast is so involved with FIRST and how he brings volunteers to the team.
One of the great things about FIRST is that it is one big community. No matter your age or league, everyone feels a connection. Because of that, at a FIRST Robotics Competition regional, there is representation from FIRST LEGO League. Beth Hanning, the Florida Northwest Region Partner for FIRST LEGO League, talked to us about the program and how it relates to the event. We also discussed SOFWERX, a facility in Tampa that has gotten involved with FIRST, even hosting the local FIRST Stronghold Kick Off.
Events as big as the Orlando Regional require a lot of volunteers, and some of those volunteers require a lot of knowledge about the FIRST itself. For example, someone giving tours of the pits and field must know about FIRST, FIRST Robotics Competition, Stronghold, etc. Riley Branch from Bionic Tigers (FRC 1592) volunteers as a Student Ambassador, providing exactly those services to VIP guests, sponsors and more. She discusses her experiences as a Student Ambassador for 4 years, the types of questions she gets and how it has affected her. We also discuss the team, how long it's been around and how they run their team.
Some volunteers at FIRST events come with their teams, while others volunteer even when their teams aren't there. Chris Becker from Lakerbotics (FRC 1649) volunteered as a Student Ambassador to give tours to sponsors, VIPs and more. He discusses what his day is like as an Ambassador, what it means for him and what he gets out of the volunteering. We also discuss the ups and downs of Stronghold and how the team has overcome the new challenges.
The Orlando Regional is organized by a team of people, including alumni, regional directors and partners. Terri Willingham, the Regional Director for FIRST Robotics of Central Florida is on that team and discusses FIRST Stronghold as a game and its theming, including the fact that it was developed in cooperation with Disney and how it compares to past games. She also discusses the event itself and what it takes to put it together.