Over the past few years a handful of younger alumni mentors/volunteers and I have noticed the rate of educational and corporate partners within FIRST disappearing on a local level, in both funding and outreach. Being still fairly new to the CHS/ Northern Virgina region it’s quite baffling to see the number of fortune STEM companies and top tier educational institutions that have minimal to no involvement with FIRST or have sunsetted their financial involvement due to not seeing a benefit in it. As a volunteer interacting with teams in the pit on a 1:1 basis for 4/5 events a year across the district seeing the large disparity in mentor/financial resources between teams is eye opening, let alone the lack of tabling from companies and universities for student resources. For the past few months I have been working with my employer a former title sponsor for CHS that has since sunsetted their funding outside of supporting employee volunteer hours due to not seeing financial benefits. This has taught me that I don’t think I have the guidance or personal mentorship to tackle this alone. I have started conversations and gathering contacts with companies and my next task is universities. I’m reaching out to the FIRST community on how people have gone about creating foundations for long-term sustainable corporate and educational partnerships, the students in this region deserve our best in giving them access to the level of incredible resources around them and clearly the effort does not seem to be coming from CHS Leadership and would like to start engaging the community as a coalition of inspired mentors/volunteers.
Being a part of a team that we could say does not have the support we should to be competitive, by the district and from the same group of companies that you address…we have to hit up local businesses in order to succeed. Many businesses don’t realize that a robotics team needs about 30-40K minimum…plus equipment to be a success. 12-18K for competition registration fees, another 5-10K for travel (hotel and transportation)…to each event. Food for the team, parts for bots, equipment all vary. And this is not including a building for the team.
Then there is the fact that not all schools have curriculum for robotics. And since any funding has to come from CTE…generally it doesn’t favor robotics. And schools that have teams after they are built…are relegated to any port in the storm…or in our case…share an AG building…to build a bot and teach the team how build, code, do electrical, CAD, and business.
Grants are nice…however they don’t cover a lot. And if you include what a district will allow you to have…it is left to the boosters and teams to make up the rest or make due. We are relegated to doing fundraising for a lot of what we need to do for our team. We buy parts for the future…like our swerve system. We haven’t even learned to code it…much less drive it yet. And we are still adding parts for it. This is the second year in a row (I hope!!!) that we are going to State. This will take about 10K for travel and hotel. That is not including food. That is about 18K…for registration alone for this season. And if a school budget only gives 15K for the program a year…you are left trying to find the rest.
In Texas, we have 247 teams…174 active…and 171ish that have competed at least once this year. We are in an area that doesn’t really have the ability for major sponsorship potential…or the ability to have Mentors that are familiar with all areas of robotics.
Most school districts here in Texas throw money at sports…not STEM. Which to me, is sad. This is not a statement about all the districts…some are balanced in their offerings to STEM…sort of…however…they support them. Via buildings, equipment, classes, and more. Some teams (from what I have heard…not sure) have a fee for joining. We don’t. You can breathe and have a pulse…we will allow you in.
We are however in the process of getting our school board members to go to state to see what we do…and visit a team that the school district supports their team…just to show them what and how it can be done.