FIRST Teams in Decline Survey

Hi all,

First of all, I’m fairly new here (I’ve only really used this forum to post pictures for TBA) so I apologize if “FIRST-Related Organizations” was not the appropriate tag for this. Anyways, I’m a member of a fledgling inter-robotics team alliance called the Urban Robotics League, and we were hoping to survey the users of CD about robotics teams that have called it quits or come close to doing so. Recently, a number of teams in our area have experienced declines in membership that have led some to temporarily retire. We’re hoping to get down to the root cause of this so that we can advocate for these teams and help them get back on their feet. For that reason, we created a brief survey (should take no more than 10 minutes) for members of teams that either a. have retired, b. are currently experiencing an unexpected decline in membership, or c. have experienced declines in membership in the past. It would be a great favor to us if those of you who meet those conditions could fill this survey** out for us!

*Don’t be deterred by the fact that it’s 6 pages - they’re short and you won’t have to fill all of them out.
**inb4 someone that took AP Psych comments about some sort of limitation of the research method: I’m well aware that Google Forms is not the most reliable way of carrying out a formal study and that some of this may be biased and whatever else. This is just an informal way of compiling anecdotes from teams that have experienced declines in membership.

Thank you!

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I just responded for my team, but I’d like to give info about a team in my area that I worked closely with, and which declined and folded, if what you want is data about factors in the decline. Is that okay? Frankly I think their info is pertinent, and none of their members will ever see this post.

That’s completely fine! Thank you for doing so!

Will you publish your results? I’d love to read it!

Of course!

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Will you be publishing the results on this forum?

I’m not sure our experience is what you are looking to survey…we are hitting an expected roster decline. As a fifth year team that began with mostly freshpersons we graduated half the class last spring. And, as a team getting ready to move from an off site build to a new STEM center next year, we are not looking to have a mass recruiting class of inexperienced newbies. (That’s probably next year). But you might find our interim solution interesting.

TW

will the publication include team numbers or no? I would be willing to put my team number in the forum if it is not published

I might include geographic area in the results depending on whether a trend arises, but I’ll omit specific team numbers.

Yes, although the time and format may depend on whether a robotics conference that our inter-team organization is planning happens.

The Logo for URL looks VERY similar to that of the MEZ’s (https://mez.engin.umich.edu/).
Very interesting coincidence.

I filled out the survey for a former team of mine that had been experiencing difficulties before I joined the team.

Boosting this one more time! I’ll post the results sometime in the next week!

The results of the survey can be viewed here: https://urbanroboticsleague.weebly.com/surveys.html

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This is actually quite interesting, might deserve a separate thread.

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This is interesting. Good job. Another cool survey may be what struggles existing FRC teams have.
Thanks for doing this.

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This is extremely interesting and it really is scary to see all the problems teams are having, especially how many teams share the same problems my team does. Thanks for this!

Interesting. Some of this may be specific to one area, other aspects may be universal. I find the issues relating to district support to be the most concerning. Educating students is after all what they are in business to do. If there are either “turf wars” or crippling budgetary issues those are hard things to get past.

TW

For further thinking…

You key question in those slides was “Why are so many teams in the Twin Cities losing members?”

How do you know this is true?

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A few thoughts on the premise for the survey, specifically as it was driven by Minnesota retention numbers. First, the status of MN over the years:

Prior to 2006, things were small and stagnant. So we’ll use that year as our starting point. We enjoyed a great period of growth, with very small numbers of retiring teams. Even through to this year, with 221 active teams (as of when I last updated my spreadsheet… that number may have changed!), we’ve never had more than 9 teams retire in a single year. Looking over the past 5 years, we’ve had a retention rate of more than 95% each year. In fact, we’ve never had the total number of teams drop from one year to the next.

What about new team recruitment? Well, that’s getting progressively harder. If you look at the official school enrollment numbers from the MSHSL, the 222 largest high school school in MN has 257 students. Lets face it - it’s easy to find 30 people interested in robots in a school of 3,000. It’s much, much harder to do so in a school of 300. For one, the recruitment pool is 10% as big. Also, speaking from experience, when you get to smaller schools, you tend to get students that are involved in more activities as well. In a large school, people tend to specialize more, as there’s only so much room on each team or club. In a small school, you have the same need for numbers involved with each activity, but fewer students… so they get involved with more, get busier schedules that can make involvement in a year-round activity (like many robotics teams) more difficult. So, that can help cover recruitment issues many of our teams are facing.

What about funding? Well, the number of teams has grown a lot… but the amount of money out there hasn’t. There’s more competition for funding than there was 10 years ago. Many of the big local companies are getting more particular with who they fund as well - they’re shifting money out of the suburbs and into inner city or rural schools. They’re looking for diverse teams, made of up minorities, under-privileged students, and students on free and reduced lunch. This can cause big headaches for some other teams - I know, we’ve been working through them for several years ourselves, and it’s impacted who we target with our outreach, so we can continue to meet our sponsors interests.

How about mentor retention? This can be tough. Over the past ~5 years or so, we’ve seen a “changing of the guard”, so to speak - the energetic mentors that helped so many teams get started ~8-13 years ago are moving on, and others are needed to fill the void left behind. Those mentors aren’t leaving because of anything FIRST-related. Maybe they got a new job and had to move. Maybe they retired, maybe they had kids… there are numerous reasons that all sum up under the heading of “life changes”. As for finding new mentors… well, with more teams than ever before, the competition for mentors is pretty fierce. It’s largely the same story as funding - more competition for a limited set of resources.

As for school support… that can be hit or miss, and something that every team needs to work on, every year. Even if you have great school support, you need to work to keep it great. It’s not just having a relationship with the current person in charge… it’s forming relationships with anyone that could replace them should they move on, so your team isn’t impacted by their departure.

There’s a lot that goes into team sustainability. The results of the survey aren’t really surprising, to be honest. The problem areas identified are the ones you would expect, the ones I think many of us have known about and worried about for our own teams for many years.

The question is… Now what? You’ve got this survey, and the expected results… what do you do about it? How do you use it to help teams?

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Jon

Nice summary of the situation in Minnesota. Some aspects of this I had not considered.

In a sense we are luckier over here in Western WI. There is a very active cluster of teams in the Lacrosse area…then not much else in the western third of the state. A long standing team in Eau Claire, a newish one in a little town north of us, and us in Chippewa Falls. We are ramping up to help another multi school team get going in EC next year, but for the foreseeable future we are not encountering the competition for students, mentors and sponsor interest.

Eau Claire could support another team or two, Menomonie, Hudson, Wausau, probably several of the smaller communities. We’d actually like to have a hub arrangement one day but that’s a ways off.

TW