Greetings, FIRST Ladies! Happy October!
Rachel asked me if I’d write about my personal FIRST experience for the blog – and I’m more than happy to! I will try my hardest to keep it to the TL;DR version, because I’m not sure how well 22-and-some-change years of FIRSTer life is going to translate into text. So let’s start from the beginning.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Libby Kamen. (Yes, that Kamen. Dean is my uncle.) My father, Dean’s big brother, was a big part of a lot of DEKA’s big projects – for example, the wearable insulin pump was originally designed for my father’s oncology patients! Their medical & technical knowledge always wove together on different endeavors, so I grew up around technology and science, even before I knew much about it.
I got to see much of DEKA’s growth up close, into the iBot wheelchair, the Segway technology, and now the Slingshot water purification system. In fact, as DEKA was developing the technology for the iBot, I was learning to walk – and as a result, a lot of my early struggles with movement are on video, so the DEKA engineers could study the development of walking, standing, and balance.
When FIRST began its competitions in 1992, my family was there – all of us. Dean’s parents, siblings, and … me. I’m the only one of my generation in the Kamen family. (No pressure, right?). From the very first Maize Craze event in New Hampshire as a baby, through this year’s Championship, I have never missed a year of FIRST. Once I got to around age 6 or 7, I was allowed to start doing field reset at competitions (which was awesome, but take note – all volunteers must be 12+ as of a few years ago!)
My family also went to events all over our region just to visit – even if we weren’t volunteering, my father would throw the Segways in the car and we’d go just to ‘be around the teams’. I soon learned this would be my duty, whether I liked it or not. Fortunately for me, I absolutely love going to events and interacting with teams and volunteers, even when it’s not in my own region. This community is so welcoming that every event feels like home to me, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
As I got old enough to volunteer ‘on my own’ (as in, without a parent constantly over my shoulder), I’d wander around competitions by myself and just talk to teams. Since I was a younger student, teams were more than happy to explain their robots to me. I quickly fell in love with robotics – it wasn’t just my family’s thing anymore, it was mine. By the time I got to high school, it was apparent that I needed to do this FRC thing for myself. So I started Team 1923, The MidKnight Inventors. (At least, that’s our name now. We went through a bit of a re-branding in 2008.) I had the full support of my family – after all, it was FIRST! – and the team was born.
The team started off small – myself, as a freshman, and a handful of upperclassmen. I recruited one of my friends, because I didn’t feel like being the only girl in a room full of boys. (Katie is still a proud FIRST alum & volunteer – and we brought her sister into it, too! But that’s a story for another day.) The upperclassmen soon figured out that I wasn’t kidding around about running this team, and I remained captain of the team through four years of struggling to gain our footing in the school district.
In 2009, the team grew from the original 4 to a whopping 24, and we won our first regional. That was the year we finally locked down our build & strategy process, rather than just floundering all build season, and it totally paid off. As I left for college I knew they’d be able to maintain the program, and I promised them I’d never be far.
It took about two weeks for them to miss me & ask for my help, and I was proud to give it. I maintained an advisory mentor role from a distance as I attended Clarkson University (about 8.5 hours away by car), and attended their events when I could. For the most part, my job was about consulting & guiding our new school-district advisor, and making sure the process I’d put in place stayed. Now that I’m closer to home, I’ve returned to being a full-blown mentor who drives back and forth as often as humanly possible just to be with the team, having my hands in a little bit of everything from Mechanical to Strategy to Media & PR, as well as general team administration.
During my time at Clarkson, I worked with the FIRST program there as well. I loved getting a different perspective on how a team might run, and interacting with alumni from other regions. FIRST is celebrated at Clarkson, with FIRST alumni dorms and college credit for mentoring – it became a real melting pot for students from different teams & regions to come together and share their ideas. 229 was run by a lot of the best practices we’ve learned from each other, and I definitely still carry those lessons with me.
I began college as a Mechanical Engineering student, but like some of the other bloggers you’ve read from so far, I had my passions elsewhere too. After trying a few internships, I decided to combine everything I love together into one degree – so I finished Clarkson with my BS in Communications & Media, with a concentration in Engineering Technology. It’s a little bit confusing, from the outside but I got to take my first two years of engineering curriculum and help translate technical concepts through media & writing. My adviser called me ‘the translator’.
I loved my time at Clarkson, and I miss it dearly. Being a mentor instead of just a student-who-was-leading absolutely changed my perspective on a lot of things – mentoring is just as fun as participating, plus about seventeen million times more responsibility. I highly recommend it, because you get just as much out of it as you put in.
Throughout high school & college, I continued to visit events and volunteer. It was at this point that I also started growing into my ‘other job’ – representing FIRST and my family. That has been absolutely amazing, because it’s afforded me the chance to travel, meet teams and volunteers from all over the place, and really get a sense for how the community is feeling. Every single season is a chance to see friends from all over the world and to make new ones, and for that I’m insanely thankful. I am always an open book, and I sincerely hope that if you've seen this post and haven’t struck up a conversation with me yet, you’ll do so – either online or at an event!
I’m now pursuing a Master’s degree in Marketing & Technological Innovation – so, essentially the same deal. I’m also just beginning a job where I get to do – you guessed it! FIRST stuff. I’ll be working with United Therapeutics to sponsor & mentor teams, as well as connect its employees with volunteering opportunities. I look forward to getting to use my experience with FIRST and its community to help better serve the teams around UniTher’s offices, and to make the events we attend as volunteers that much more fun. And, as always, I’ll be a MidKnight Inventor for 2015.
Thank you so much for having me, and I hope I haven’t bored you too much. See you all this season!
This blog post was written by one of our alumni partners - Libby Kamen. To find out more about her - check out our FIRST Ladies Partners page! If you want to write a blog post for FIRST Ladies, get your spot on the schedule now! Click here to pick a date.
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