How FIRST Impacted Me

I’m not an avid poster here, but I’ve been exposed to FIRST for many years. Here’s a little something to think about as competitions are going .

Unfortunately my job has kept me from being as active with my team this year and it got me thinking about why it mattered to me that I wasn’t able to show up as much, especially since I graduated in 2012. But the other night it became quite clear to me.

Now for the backstory!

When I lived in my hometown in North Carolina I had no idea that robotics or FIRST even existed. I was going to a school for the arts. A school that I thought I would never get into after a failed first attempt. I was also a Girl Scout and had many other extracurricular activities. All my friends and family where close by.

In 2008 we moved to Virginia for better job opportunities. Being ripped away from everything that I had known left me pretty depressed and unmotivated. I made very few friends my freshman year. I remember seeing some robot at our first pep rally, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Things got better as my sophomore year rolled in. This was the year I was initially introduced into the Deep Run robotics team. I have to admit, my reason for joining that year was a little less than ideal. It was shortly after school had let out for the day. My friends and I were headed to the local library to do some homework. As we walked down the hall we passed the classroom where the robotics team met. One of my friends saw a guy she liked so we walked in and that’s how I was introduced to robotics. I didn’t stick around once FTC season had ended. I decided to go to the competition at VCU, and that’s when I got hooked.

As my junior year rolled around I decided early that year I go into robotics all the way. I started again with FTC, using my art skills to come up with ideas and work on the engineering notebook. I watched as the team prepared for presentations and built the robot. Because of my exposure in FTC I was convinced to join in with the Chairmans team for the FRC build season. I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to do, but I was also sure that I didn’t want to touch that robot thing either. Some of my fellow team members told me to audition for the FRC presentation team. My nerves where high and I had very little confidence in my ability to make it. I auditioned in front of our coach and several mentors and captains. Honestly, I only felt confident about one answer and that’s because I could see how impressed they all were. Not too long after I found out that I had made the presentation team. My first big project as a chairmans presenter was to get to know the mentor whom we would be submitting for Woodie Flowers. I was reluctant because this meant I would have to go into the build shop. This project was the biggest changing point for me.

Jumper (our WF candidate) is the kind of mentor everyone loves because of his personality and his willingness to get engaged with even the most hopeless of students (aka me). He brought me right in to the shop and I was stuck. Along with one other female student (we will call her “Hats”), we started work on our prototype that we nicknamed “trouble the problem child”. This was a bulky roller gripper that used sand paper as a means of holding on to the tubes. It became evident that this thing just wasn’t going to work. From there we moved into fabrication. Hats and I learned the machinery quickly thanks to the patience and mentoring of Jumper. Hats went to take on the mill and I went to take on the lathe. Of course we can’t forget my previous commitment to the Chairmans team. I found it so hard to focus there when I was so engulfed in the fabrication process. I took the roll as “robot expert” and continued my work in the shop, steeping away for the necessary practices.

The team had bestowed upon me one more project. As a student with small hands, I was given responsibility over our mini bot, later named Nacho Cheese. This was my pride an joy of working with the team that year. Although the mini bit was a small package, it came with great responsibility. I remember how much joy I felt the first time it reached the top of the pole. I really understood what it felt like to see all your hard work come to life.

Our first competition of the season was in DC. I was looking forward to focusing solely on our mini bot since we were presenting Chairmans at the Virginia Regional. My greatest nightmare came to life that morning, yet another responsibility had been placed on my shoulders. Just hours before competition, the team had decided to make me safety captain. As you can imagine, it was awful. I had nothing prepared and had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing. We were less than impressive to the safety advisors (one of which would later come to guide me). Overall, DC was downright awful and the worst first exposure to put life. With very little time between our competitions, I had to work overtime between Chairmans, our mini bot, and establishing a foundation for safety in the team.

The first day of the Virginia Regional I was a complete wreck. The thoughts of everything I had a keep up with started causing chaos in my mind. As a presenter, safety captain, and mini bot mom, I had to make my home in the pits. But my real concern was keeping up with it all. How was I supposed to talk to safety advisors and judges, repair any damages to the mini bot, and present? Well…it was easier than it sounded. I wasn’t thrilled to see the same safety advisor who chewed me out in DC back in my teams pit. When I thought I had it all, he jut added more on to that list. Day 1 ended with nothing but a world of frustration. Then comes day two. It’s show time. We plan our presentation time around matches and take the day on full forces. Judges came and went, that same safety advisor was driving me crazy…but none of it mattered. I had to keep my head in the game. An hour before our time to present, the Chairmans team gathered for back to back practice. Just like that, we were standing outside the room waiting to be called in. What happened next is what destroyed all my pent up nerves. Strolling down the hall was VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart. He was busy but promised to come back and as promised he did. A short conversation and pep talk with him sent us into that room with our heads held high. The presentation and interview went by like a breeze. The rest of the day went by just the same. Skipping to the end of day 3, all the teams sat and listening to the awards ceremony. One by one, awards were passed out to other teams. After what seems like forever to Chairmans teams, it was finally time to announce the Chairmans Award. About half way through the announcement, it became clear that our team had won. There where tears and cheers and all that other good stuff. We went to worlds and had to do it all over again. Although we didn’t come home with any awards, we came back in one piece. The robot, not so much.

I’m thankful to be a part of a strong and family oriented team. That summer we had to search for a new build site and coach, that also meant we lost our mentor Jumper. The team worked all summer to stabilize ourselves for the upcoming season. We welcomed our new coach with open arms and eventually found ourselves a new place to work. Along with a few others, I became one of the captains of our team. I spent the fall building up our FTC team, mainly focusing on the presenters. I kept my role as safety captain and brought safety into the team fully. Deciding not to present for FRC, I focused mainly on fabrication and the robot. Safety was my biggest success that year, bringing home two stars and two hard hats. The year came and went, before I knew it I was graduating.

Present time:

I’ve stayed involved with my team. They are the ones who made me after all. I mentored our FTC team until it disbanded and continue to work with build, safety, and Chairmans. Even with our FTC team gone, I continue to volunteer at events as a judging assistant because of my love of the whole presentation process. I also volunteer for several roles at FRC events (practice fields, inspection, and this year I’ll be volunteering as a safety advisor).

I can say without a doubt that my involvement in FIRST is the reason why I am where I am at the point in my life. I’ve become confident in my speaking and ability to lead. The jobs I have successful interviewed with were products of my exposure in my team.

I am nothing but grateful to all who have had a major impact in my life.

To team 1086, for giving me a place to go when I thought I had nothing

To both my coaches who gave me the strength to be a part of the team and become a leader

To my mentors in Chairmans for building up my confidence

To my build mentors who allowed a girl to come in and take our build shops by storm.

To Jumper for bringing me in to the whole build process with an open mind and heart (a side thanks to 384 for making him a WF finalist)

And to the safety advisor we code named “the fuzzy green hat”. Without you, I don’t think our safety team would have made it as far as it has in three years.

I’m really interested to know how FIRST has truly impacted other people out there.

Great post. You guys on Blue Cheese keep up the good work. We will see you in Richmond soon.

Shyanne, thank you for your kind words. It was a pleasure to work with you, and it was a lot of fun. I still can’t forget the times our poor little minibot got ran over on the field. You are on your way to achieve great things - I am just glad that I could be a part of that.

Best wished, and see you at VCU!


Is there are TLDR for this?

It feels good to hear this and many other such stories. You will not know what you can do until you take the plunge and commit to it. Hope your story inspires others.