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Unread 03-16-2004, 07:30 PM
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College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

Fellow College Students,

For the longest time I've been searching for the right balance of FIRST and college life. I've seen many who burnt out because they were too involved in FIRST, and I've seen others who are just having their fun. Some believe they can start a team and run it when they enter college as a freshmen, but many examples are telling me that college students should avoid the responsibilities of having to manage an entire robotics team.

So, in the hope to collect more data, I post this question to all you college student out there. How is your experience in FIRST? How involved are you in FIRST? How is FIRST affecting your school work? Do you honestly thing college students can handle the load of being a student, and being a team leader?

These are just some questions I want to post to get this discussion started. As we go deeper and deeper into the discussion, I will ask more questions and see where they take us.

Now, if you wish to remain nameless when replying to this thread, go ahead and send me a PM. I will post your responds for you.

A Fellow College FIRST-a-holic,
-Ken Leung
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Unread 03-16-2004, 07:55 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

This year, which is my third year in college (out of 5), I founded a FIRST Robotics club at my school (Drexel). I organized getting others to mentor teams in the area; I couldn't mentor a team since I was in Turkey for two weeks during build season visiting my boyfriend and I also was assistant stage managing a show. I also volunteered at the Richmond Regional, and I will be volunteering at the Philly Regional. During the fall, I was judge at two FLL tournaments. I actually wish I was a little more involved.

It's actually not bad for me to be heavily involved in FIRST, because I'm on co-op September to March, prime pre-season and build season time

Hope this helps answer your questions, Ken.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 07:55 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

I decided to take my first year of college at the Purdue University programs here in Kokomo (its cheap ) and that gave me the opportunity to come back and be a mentor with the Technokats, the team that I have spent my previous 4 years of high school with. Really I just showed up when I could and basically made college more of a priority. Although FIRST isnt something I could just stop doing after sacrificing a lot to do it the last 4 years. I guess my goal this year was not really to be a factor on robot design and building, but to get the newbies and the kids that are getting to the point of taking leadership positions more excited about FIRST or help bring them in. I've been very impressed with the students that have taken over leadership positions who were just little freshmen when I was at the point where they are now. Also freshmen involvement has been VERY high compared to previous years. That picture that was posted earlier shows that. The kid up in the air is a freshman and the kid that sacrificed his body pretty much is a freshman also. Im really thrilled to see these young ones getting excited about FIRST so quickly. So I'll stop rambling now and come to the conclusion that even though I wasn't there that often, I made my presence felt and contributed to helping the new kids gain acceptance and new found interest.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 08:00 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

I guess I give it my best shot Ken.

So far I've have mentored my hometown team on the weekends. Home is two hours away or I'd help more often. This has probably been good for my schoolwork because I would be there to often if I was closer, and had a car.
I probably averaged 8 hours of work a day when I was home.

I'm at Kansas State and the closest other team is at least an hour and a half away so I have no one close to mentor. I thought about starting a team here but decided to at least wait a year and probably should wait until I have a vehicle.

Kansas City will be having a regional next year so I am hoping to be able to help there. And it will be easier to create more teams in our state. I am setting a booth about FIRST up for my colleges open house where hopefully I will be able to spark some interest.

As far as competition this year I have watched 3 1/2 competitions. VCU, Portland, and part of UCF webcast and then went to help teammates scout at SLR. I won't be able to travel with my team to LSR, open house weekend and calc test, but will be a championship to at the least cheer my team on.

A team could be led by a college student but it would be very hard. I think it is nice to have teachers and engineers leading the team for certain reasons. The studies part wouldn't be a problem. It would just take some self-discipline and a little caffeine.

Teachers and professionals are way better with dealing with school administration, securing funding, and a lot of the important parts of starting and maintaining the team.

Right now I'm addicted and excited. Between watching the finals from the different regionals this years game is awesome and I really can't wait to go to Atlanta.

I would like to get more into the volunteering and mentoring aspect of FIRST but I haven't found a good way to tackle it. Between time, nearness of events, having no car, and serious lack of funding I've had trouble this year. Any insight on this would be great. How did you start volunteering and mentoring once becoming a college student? Especially for people that aren't close to an event, SLR is the closest at seven hours away.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 08:29 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

I am a college freshman this year, and I started a rookie team. Kind of. We didn't get our registration fee, and the feeling of failure constantly nags at me. We didn't give up as a team. We decided to use this year as a practice year. We are building a robot, and want to hold a competition in the fall. But what if i can't manage that either. I'm the only adult our team has, so it's up to me to do everything. I love FIRST. I was only on my high school team for a year (didn't know about it until then), but FIRST has been the best experience of my life. I know being a team leader affects my school work, but not always in a negative way. If fact most of the time it's "I have to do my work, because then I can play with robots." It's really frustrating sometimes being the only adult. Because everything that doesnt happen (like not getting a registration fee) is my fault. Sometimes I want to go shout over the treetops to all the sponsors that think I'm going to give up at this. So what if nobody around here has ever heard of robotics. Wait till I'm through with them. I think being able to handle everything depends mostly on the person, and other things affecting them, like stuff at home.

I'm sorry if that was a somewhat scatterbrained response. The lack of money around here is rather frustrating. I'll try and clarify later, it's just there's so much I want to say on this topic that my brain keeps jumping all over.

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Unread 03-16-2004, 08:33 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

I've been a college student for about 12 years (along with working at Xerox). It gets a bit stressful during the season. There never seems to be enough time but I just cannot think of doing without my FIRST fix.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 09:14 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Koko Ed
I've been a college student for about 12 years (along with working at Xerox). It gets a bit stressful during the season. There never seems to be enough time but I just cannot think of doing without my FIRST fix.
*chuckle* A bit stressful?!? My husband's working full-time at our team's sponsor rent.com, and in school full-time. We have a college student and 2 teens on the team. Build season was tremendously stressful. So glad it's only six weeks.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 09:18 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

I am actually on another side of the college student involvement in FIRST. I choose to stay away from FIRST, and try to concentrate on the school work and make that my top priority. I attended my hometown teams kick-off event, and went to a few hours of a build session. I even had a "FIRST fix" by going to a team 134 work session. I ecstatically look forward to the Pennsylvania Robot Challenge, and hopefully at least one more 2004 competition. However, I have noticed now that Regionals have begun, I regret my actions. I sit in front of my computer non-stop watching VCU, Portland, and UCF; in addition to being on the phone continuously receiving updates from BAE and Pittsburgh. I deeply miss the involvement in the build season and the competition experience. However, I have yet to figure out how I will balance college and FIRST.

...... I apologize for the rambling.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 09:26 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Redhead Jokes
*chuckle* A bit stressful?!? My husband's working full-time at our team's sponsor rent.com, and in school full-time. We have a college student and 2 teens on the team. Build season was tremendously stressful. So glad it's only six weeks.
I was being modest.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 09:32 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Leung
How is your experience in FIRST?
Quote:
How involved are you in FIRST?
Currently handling a good deal of the administrative tasks of Team 891.
Quote:
How is FIRST affecting your school work?
Aside from Calc 2, I'm doin' fairly well, dean's list last semester....we'll see this semester.
Quote:
Do you honestly thing college students can handle the load of being a student, and being a team leader?
Yes. It's all about time management and priorities - if you want to do it, you can do it.
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Unread 03-16-2004, 09:55 PM
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Post Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Leung
How is your experience in FIRST? How involved are you in FIRST? How is FIRST affecting your school work? Do you honestly think college students can handle the load of being a student, and being a team leader?
It's honestly a very daunting and incredibly challenging task. Our program at Purdue University is almost entirely college student run. Back in high school, I came from a program where the engineers did the vast majority of the design and manufacturing work, and had the students do the assembly end of it. Nevertheless, I felt extremely inspired and thought I had a really good experience. In retrospect, this couldn't be further from the truth.

When I came to Purdue I faced a rather rigorous application and interview process which allowed me to become a technical advisor. It was 461's 3rd year in existence, with very few returning undergraduates around to be mentors. I struggled as an advisor significantly due to my lack of design experience, but nevertheless came to discover that my true engineering passion didn't lie in electrical, but rather mechanical engineering. However, I quickly realized that the time commitment, the lack of appreciation by those I was working with, gave me little choice but to choose to not return the next year, which I planned on doing descretely.

But dagnubbit, somehow those high school students found out, and IM's starting pouring in:

"Matt, you can't leave!! You're such a good advisor!"
"Matt, we need your help next year, you can't leave us!"
"Matt, I know you're leaving, but I just want to say that you made a really big impact on my life."

How do you walk away from that?
The short answer is that you don't, and I've been significantly involved ever since. I wasn't "underappreciated"... high school students (myself included at that age) do really appreciate what mentors do... they just don't realize how much it means to hear it.

As for how involved I am... the answer is "perhaps is a bit too much."

Last year, we started to do a lot of differently, including:
  • Begin to use the donated CNC equipment at our high school.
  • CAD our entire robot in Inventor.
  • Take pride in machining parts correctly by using precise measuring insturments.
The CNC stuff was actually a lot of patient trial and error by a very small handful of high school students, but the CAD and precision machining was an initive that I had to start myself. While previously we had to do a lot of CNC work using Purdue's facilities, I realized that a lot more can be done by hand with proper training. While some people scoffed at the idea of high school students possibly CADing models, creating drawings, and making precision parts with the tools at the high school (which I confess has very nice facilities), it worked out rather well.

This year I worked along side some other talented college mentors including Raj Daftuar and Carl Agnew to start a lot of other initiatives, including:
  • Creating an AutoDesk Inventor Tutorial Guide to be used by both college and high school students. (That's 100% Raj, I take no credit except giving him encouragement)
  • Planning and preparing for machine shop training and certification for both college and high school students.
  • Planning a lecture on DC motors and their application in FIRST robotics for the course at Purdue, ME 497f.
  • Developing the Knowledge is Power (KIP) engineering introduction tutorials for our high school students on gear ratios, mechanics of materials, drive train design, electronics fundamentals, wiring standards. (Software written by Carl Agnew, lessons and quizzes written by myself, Caleb Fulton, Matt Auter, and Raj Daftuar.)
  • Created the Westside Boiler Invasion Approved Parts List to standardize all of our bushings, bearing, material, fasteners, gears, sprockets and chain distributors.
  • Created a comprehensize chart standarding critical engineering data (weight per foot, moment of inertia) about common material shapes (box, L, extrusion, round stock, tubing).
  • Wrote in PHP the 461 Time Clock to allow student to track and compare their hours of participation, schedule abscenses, and keep up to date about meeting times.
As for the time commitment, we're meeting at the high school twice a week during the fall, and 6 (basically 7) days a week during the build season. It's definitely a lot of time commitment. The short story is that I don't have much of a choice, there's a handful of college students who are really able to commit the amount of time needed to inspire and teach students while building a well designed, competitive robot.

As a whole at Purdue, there's a low return rate for our technical advisors. The amount of time commitment that you need to have for academic success and the amount of time that you need to dedicate to be a good FIRST advisor is about the same. Significant sleep loss occurs, and grades do take a hit.

I would not be able to commit at the level I am at right now had I not recieved a lot of college credit from advanced placement exams and the foreign language department here at Purdue. Essentially, most of the advisors and FIRST involved college students at Purdue that I know are spending at least an extra semester at Purdue, which may or may not be directly related due to their involvement in FIRST here on campus.

Being a college mentor on a college run team is a very serious commitment. Right now, we have over 40 college students committed to make this happen. We started out under the wing of another large student organization at Purdue, which is the way that I'd suggest others go about it. Starting a team on your own is very difficult. Shannon Schnepp wrote a very good paper on how Purdue started their team 5 years ago. I suggest you read it so that you'll have a good understanding of what's needed to accompish your goal sucessfully.

Matt
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Unread 03-16-2004, 10:14 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

When I was a senior in High School, I knew that I wanted to continue with FIRST... so I picked a school that would work around my FIRST schedule:

Year one: classes from September - June
-Ok, taking classes and doing FIRST is a major pain in the @s5... kudos to you guys who do that successfully
-I was on a new team so I took the time to 'learn their ways,' I purposely shy'd away from having any definate responsibilities and only promised them a Chairman's Award entry
-I concieved the idea for the Beantown Blitz last march while staring at a wall during Physics class, I proceded to ask the Dean of Engineering if he'd be interested... he said 'yes,' it all started from there (most of you know the rest of the story )

Year two, three, & four: work jan-june, class july - december
-This is perfect; for build, competition, and off-season event planning time... I'm working (granted, working is still tough... but at least you know it's only a '40 hour week' and you won't have any surpise term papers to finish. Life is a bit more predictible)
-I go nuts about FIRST while I'm working, and I concentrate on School when the FIRST stuff is a bit at a lull
-While I'm in class though, I organize pre-season and do other 'team leader' type stuff... I'm in the process of making that a Work-Study position for a few hours of each week. This will help with time-management a little more.

Year five, class august - april
-I don't know how I'll feel about things my Senior year, but I'll probably have a lighter team responsibility and pay attention to classes. I do have the rest of my life to enjoy FIRST, but I have to make school a priority.

So all in all, I'm not a typical college student. I'm working at DEKA on the iBOT right now as a intern, and working there... haha, it feels like your workin on a FIRST Robotics Team all the time. They are truely a unique company.

Ok, back to living the dream.


ByE

erin
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Unread 03-16-2004, 11:04 PM
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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

This is my first year in University (University of Waterloo, Canada). My involvement with FIRST went up and down. I started out helping to create a Kickoff game with other students at the University (all FIRST alumni). But, school kicked in near the end of it, and I started to drift a little back. Then I hit my work term (Jan - April) and decided to help out the rookie local team (only one in the area). But I joined about a week and half into the build. I thought since I was on work term I would have plenty of time. It was good for days that they worked late, and weekends, but other then that it was a pain. Because I get off work at 5 I have to get to their build site (walking) and also eat dinner. And the students did a lot of work during their lunch time, which I couldn't make.

So, it wasn't as much time as I would have hoped. Hopefully next year when I am in school during the same term, I will be able to get out more often. I can choose to go to class, but not work.

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Unread 03-16-2004, 11:15 PM
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How is your experience in FIRST?

I had a bit of a non standard time.

I swiched from Herndon to a private, distance learning program my junior year of high school. Here in Fairfax County, if you are not a student then you arn't suppost to participate on the sports teams or extracurricular activites. I was fortunate in that our lead teacher was willing to let me continue on the team. It did, however, prevent me from going to Nationals my senior year (2002).

I graduated the spring of 2002, and just worked retail and had a good time for a year. I purposfully did not participate with my team in 2003, to avoid issues with friends still on the team and such. I met up with a rookie team, 1123 and went to a few meetings, then I broke my car (for 7 months) and was unable to get to their build site to help.

It was durring this hiatus from active participation with a team that I started chating with other FIRST-a-holics online and became good friends with some of them. So much that I was able to fly out to San Jose and stay with the Golds and volunteer at the Sillicon Valley Regional. I was so not ready to go home that I asked my grandparents if I and some friends could stay with them at their house in LA for the LA regional. They agreed, and 5 or so of us went down to LA and volunteered again.

That volunteering experiance was a fundamentaly diffrent experiance then the one I got while as a student.

This year, I started classes in Emergency Medicene at NVCC and rejoined 116 as an adult mentor. In the fall, we've always done a mini competition, and I had a group of kids. The type of work I did was rather different. I'm only two years out of high school, but my viewpoint has changed dramaticly. I was doing alot of project management. I don't have the knowledge to do the detailed engineering equaitions, but I have the general knowledge to get a rough estimate in my head. So I was guidling these young adults (alot like me) through the engineering design process, yet I've never had a formal class in it. I think I did an ok job, because my group was about as far along as anyone else was when we ran out of time and had to move on.

This spring I was working 24 hours a week, taking 13 credits at NVCC, and going to most of the meetings. I had class durring times that the team met, but I went to my classes instead. As it got near the end of the build season, I began to better understand the time commitment that Dave and Mr Tripp and Jack and Heidi and Ms Bobzine made to be there all the time.

It was also diffrent in that it was a part of my life, not what my life revolved around.

My experiance in FIRST in college has been overwhelmingly positive. I think I've also been able to pass on some things I've learned, at least in the shop. (I love making things ) I may go away to nursing school this fall, but thats still a maybe. Either way, FIRST will be a part of it, but not the deciding factor in everything that it was while I was in high school. (I think thats maturity... From me!?!)


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Re: College Students: How is your experience in FIRST?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Leung
How is your experience in FIRST? How involved are you in FIRST? How is FIRST affecting your school work? Do you honestly thing college students can handle the load of being a student, and being a team leader?
I've been a FIRST mentor since leaving high school. I haven't been involved; I've been comitted. (i.e. look at your basic bacon and eggs breakfast... the chicken was involved; the pig was comitted)

My school work has suffered tremendously as a result of FIRST. But you know what? I don't really care. My life is much more enriched, and I hope the kids' lives are better for it, too. I have good enough grades that I don't get kicked out of school. I consider FIRST a better preparation for teaching than any class I've taken. And I'm happy, which is all that really matters in the end.

If you feel that you can handle FIRST and don't mind the sacrifices, I say go for it. 20 years from now, I doubt you'll look back and say, "I wish I had graduated one semester earlier instead of doing FIRST."
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