FIRST is not about the robot.
“But wait,” you ask, “isn't the whole point of robotics the robot?” Nope. This is obvious in FIRST LEGO League, when you also need a research project with an innovative solution to compete, but I think this idea can be applied everywhere in FIRST.
My name is Anna Marie Mitchell. I am part of FLL team 29, Caught in a Brainstorm from Lakeville, MN, the FIRST Ladies FLL partner. Not very long ago, my team and I were in St. Louis competing in the 2015 FIRST World Festival where we won third place Creative Presentation. Not only was it incredibly fun, it taught me a lot about myself, my team, and how I should think about FIRST. Because it’s not just about the robot.
FIRST has taught me how to talk to people. By going through judging sessions, endless mock judging, explaining our team’s ideas to people in the pit, and showing our team to the community, FIRST has taught me how to think (and talk) on my feet. I’ve always been good at making up explanations, stories, and even songs off of the top of my head, but FIRST has helped me communicate in a fluid way that will make sense to anyone who may be listening. That really comes in handy within competition, and outside of competition.
This year, I auditioned for my High School’s competitive speech team and made it as one of two eighth graders. I was put into a category ---- Extemporaneous Speaking ---- that gave competitors 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute speech answering a question revolving around world politics. We would pick three questions out of an envelope, chose the one we wanted to speak on, and then use recent articles via. Dropbox (no internet allowed) to outline a three-point speech answering the question we chose. I also competed in the impromptu category, where you are given a quote to speak on, and one to two minutes of prep time to internally outline a five to six minute speech about the quote. Naturally, I ended up winging quite a bit.
I became comfortable talking about almost anything at the drop of a hat (even Tunisian counter-terrorism efforts. That was an interesting speech). My involvement and competition on the speech team I consider to be largely due to my involvement in FIRST. FIRST taught me how to speak comfortably in front of people, or groups of people, that I didn't know. That carried over to my audition for the speech team, and my competition as part of the speech team.
FIRST has also taught me quite a bit about my team. Aside from learning that head-programmer Selina should not have caffeine, lest she go cray-cray, we've all learned more about our interests and each other through our participation in FLL.
Caught in a Brainstorm started out as a friend group long before we became a robotics team. That meant that maintaining friendships was always our top priority. FIRST brought us closer together as friends, and as a team made up of friends We learned to hear each other’s ideas, rather than push them aside and follow our own path. We learned to compete, cooperate, incorporate, mentor and share.
One big thing FIRST did for every member of Caught in a Brainstorm was to show us that STEM is a viable career path for any and all of us. As a group of 13 and 14 year-olds, we are often targeted by ads flaunting headlines like “Be Sexy Now!” or “Lose 37 Pounds every 37 Seconds!” or “Make Him Love You!” Sadly enough, a lot of people brush these messages off or buy into them because they're so normal. But they shouldn't be so normal. I am advertised to as if I should only care about my appearance and if boys like me. What FIRST did was show my team and me that we can be programmers, scientists, or engineers. We can be women who make a difference in the world. We don’t have to be the types of women that society seems to expect us to want to be. FIRST gives everyone the skills to be an innovator and a thinker no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they’re interested in. That’s a message that I have never heard or understood so clearly before.
Our team has found a lot of success these last two years. But we’ve learned more than we could’ve ever anticipated. From our very first regional tournament last year when our robot didn’t do anything we wanted it to, we learned that we grow more as a team by failing than we ever could by winning. From demo-ing our robot at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Dakota County Technical College, and the Works Museum, we learned that we like sharing what we’ve learned with anyone and everyone who will listen. From mentoring two FIRST LEGO League teams this year and last spring, we learned that, by mentoring, we not only teach; we learn. From competing in the 2015 FIRST World Festival, we learned that a lot of people care about FIRST, and everyone has a different way to solve the same problems. FIRST has shaped us as individuals, and as a team. It’s pretty incredible how much we’ve all changed since we started getting involved in FIRST. Everyone is more confident, assured, driven, and inspired than we’ve ever been before.
I think we all know that FIRST is pretty cool. But it really isn’t about the robot. No matter how your team may win (or not win), FIRST helps everyone in all of its programs.
One thing that stuck out to me when Dean Kamen was talking about FIRST at the World Festival was that, like FLL teams have to create an innovative solution to a problem, Dean Kamen’s solution to all of the world’s problems was to create FIRST. FIRST is creating the innovators of tomorrow by introducing kids to STEM and creative problem solving at a very young age..
As Kamen said at the closing ceremony of champs, “we don’t need people to go out and conquer the world. We need people to go out and fix it.” FIRST inspires kids to be a person who can go out and fix the world.
A part of a FIRST team, I know that we FIRST-ers can get caught up in the competition. But I think it’s important to realize that the robot is not the important part. The importance in FIRST all lies in what you take away from it. Don’t get so caught up in the robot that you forget what FIRST has done, and what it hopes to do. At the end of the day, it isn’t all about the robot. It is about being able to create, inspire, and engineer as part of the community of incredibly hard-working and dedicated people that FIRST has created.
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