Is there really inspiration in teams?

This thread was created to focus on and continue a small tangent from the thread Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

No matter what the proportion between student-built and engineer-built a robot is, or student-managed and mentor-managed a team is, it would seem to us that every student in FIRST is inspired, which is the bottomline. Or are they? This is something I would like to clarify. Are students really being inspired to take careers in science and technology? I know the degree of inspiration on my team, but I don’t know the degree of inspiration on yours.

For Woburn Robotics, despite our student-built success in the past years, inspiration is at a low. Our past two years of graduates, I believe only 2 of 9 (member population was at low tide, tides are changing now) are taking a course in science, technology, engineering or math. In light of that fact, our alumni continue to stay connected with FIRST. Talk to a volunteer at a Canadian regional event, I’ll say there’s about a 30% chance (trying not to exaggerate) that you’ve met a 188 alumnus.

I will refrain from any boasting of our alumni and get back on topic. The question is…

What is the degree of inspiration on your team? What sort of post-secondary schools are your alumni attending? Are you a student-built or engineer-built team? Are you a student-managed or mentor-managed team ** (i.e. who is the leadership)?**

To determine the degree of inspiration, “X of Y are looking into a career in science and technology,” as I have done will do. Please refrain from posting long success stories on a single person, we have too many of them to cram into this single thread. A good exception to this would be a success story of a student who spent over 300 hours during the build season, the same number of hours during the rest of the year, and earned a nice full (or nearly full) scholarship at a nice university, the ideal FIRST offspring that’ll become more successful than Dean Kamen himself (they’re not watching me are they?).

To investigate quality in addition to quantity, I ask you the universities your alumni attend. This is the best measure of quality I can think of to determine what sort of engineers (and other professions) your team is “producing”. No matter what the answer is to this question, it doesn’t affect that these inspired students have fulfilled FIRST’s goal of inspiration.

Another measure of quality I would like to inquire on is devotion, whether you are a student/mentor-managed team (managing is simply leadership in this case, does not include team coordinator duties) despite being slightly off the topic of “inspiration”. IMHO, students that can lead themselves to develop a successful organisation like a FIRST team are the leaders of tomorrow. Maybe you can’t say that your students are as devoted as a team where students run themselves, but please try to mention how devoted your students are (as a whole, again, I ask for no long single person success stories). The amount you work during the off-season says a lot about devotion as well.

I hope to see that these upcoming posts answer yes to the question, “Is there really inspiration in teams?” I trust that we can keep this clean.

IMPORTANT edit/addition:

I failed to realize what also matters when trying to measure the degree of inspiration a FIRST team will give to their students. A very important factor is what would happen to your students if there was no FIRST to affect their high school career. What determines the degree of inspiration isn’t simply the result of FIRST, but the difference between the result with FIRST and the result *without * FIRST. Please consider this when giving your thoughts and replies.

Well, personally I think that they are being inspired but I feel that it isnt just inspiration to go and get a career in science and tech. Yes, it has inspired me to look into my options, and I have found something I love to do. But I feel that in general, it inspires students in many other aspects. Whether it be stepping up and becoming a leader. Or going out and making a difference. FIRST is the type of program that I feel can change students for the better. I have seen some of my fellow students change and progress so much just on general life aspects, which I feel is the begining of good inspiration.

My team is mostly balanced. But at this time its more mentor-managed. But I think that there is high inspiration on my team. From my one team two students wanted to go to RIT. And on my other team I know many are going to RIT and another is going to Clarkson.

So Yes. I think there is inspiration. I know you dont want specific student stories. But I have been very inspired and I have seen myself change and grow just with a year in FIRST, which makes me really happy.

Our team is relatively new, so there isn’t really a clean cut answer to this. So far, we’ve had three graduates. Of those, only one decided to change their majors because of FIRST. He had originally wanted to go into physics, but changed to mechanical engineering becuase FIRST showed him how fun it was. It’s not much of a big jump though. As for everyone else on the team, past and present, I don’t think that it’s really changed anyone. Almost everyone on the team was already planning to go into some sort of engineering or technology field. Those who aren’t took on the non-engineering roles in the team. They were nudged toward engineering, but it seemed that they didn’t like it. In general, when people join our team, they look for the corner that they are comfortable in, pushing them somewhere else discourages them.

Internally, our team is student run. Students lead the team as a whole, and take on lead engineering positions. The teachers handle most of the formal/official school business and serve as official contacts for sponsors. The teachers have already made it clear that barring some grossly improper decision, the student leadership has final say in internal affairs (both engineering and administrative).

Others from my team that read this might bite my head off, but we do a lot of work during the off-season, but don’t make much progress. Everyone seems dedicated enough to try to do things, but we don’t seem to actually get much done. We worked on a non-FIRST related project, but we had to make that good, lest we mar our reputation. This may be more of a timing issue than a dedication one, but I think some people could have worked better. But, I think that summer just makes everyone lazy in general.

Until it gets down to crunch time, the robot is student designed and built. At the end, when we need some extra hands, mentors step in to design small things (tensioners, brackets…) and help in the build whereever they are needed. Before that, they serve as advisors. Some of them help whenever they see someone struggling too much, others will wait for someone to ask them for help before they give it. Each of them has their own style. As for manufacturing, it is almost completly done by the mentors. A series of accidents and tool misuses as banned students from using the more dangerous (and more productive) tools without at least direct supervision. But the mentors tend to just do it themselves. We also don’t have any on-site machining facilities, so we pretty much just hand a CAD to a mentor and have them make it at a shop (but students will go to the shop with them sometimes).

Well, I’m not really sure if I can give you that answer from our team. The engineering people learn things and are given new ideas from other teams. They see how things work in the engineering world. One saw crab drive and wanted to design/build it. However, we don’t seem to really be bringing in new engineers, just solidifying the existing ones. So is 1351 inspiring people? I guess it depends on how you look at it.

I am proud to say that out of all 4 of my seniors, all 4 are attending college, 1 at Michigan Tech, 1 at the University of Michigan (oh that pains me so much lol), and 2 at Michigan State. 1 of my kids has already requested that he be allowed to mentor our team again, I still haven’t been able to get ahold of the other MSU student, and I know that my Tech student has been in contact with the team up there. My U of M student still hasn’t checked in, but I think that they are all majoring either in engineering or medicine.

I seem to be getting addicted to these long philosophical threads (eep its the end of lunch too…) but I’ll keep this one short. I would LOVE to see a study done across all FIRST teams on these types of questions. But for now, here is my answers from 1511:

**Degree of Inspiration: ** rougly 75%?? hmm hard to measure
Student/Engineer Built: 50%student/50%engineer
Management: Mentor right now: we were rookies! (hopefully transitioning to 30%mentor/70% student in this coming year)

I would say our success rate is 100%, though… here are our four alumni:

  1. Computer Science (MCC/RIT) *returning as a mentor
  2. Mechanical Engineering (Alfred U)
  3. Business/Management (RIT) *returning as a mentor
  4. Mechanical Engineering (U of Illinois)
    Why did I include business? well because thats the way teams run, they dont run without the leadership and management. If you look at the real engineering/science world, its not just engineers… there are business people making sure there is money for the technology. I guess most professional careers can really be related in, and any student who pursues additional education can be a success… but thats another thread.

Devotion: this is easy, our team is VERY devoted. We meet more than twice a week over the summer, and while some students lack the initial initiative, we still had 15-20 people at our summer carwash, and get at least 10 people at each of our summer meetings… During the year its crazy, so many of them live FIRST :slight_smile: We have mentors helping year round, and just had our mentor kickoff with 10 new mentors this week.

I am not the be-all, end-all source for 1293 information. However, I’ll take a stab, stealing Kim’s format mercilessly.

**Degree of Inspiration: ** I’m not entirely sure.
Student/Engineer Built: Building and some CADing by students, machining by the mentors (usually).
Management: Mentors
Alumni I can think of:
-Business, University of South Carolina. (Gee, who’s that nut? :wink: )
-Business, Clemson University
-Mech. Engineering, Georgia Tech
-Computer Science, University of South Carolina

(If any 1293ers are reading this and can think of someone else, feel free to add to the list.)

Devotion: I’d say we’re pretty devoted. Our summer meetings usually draw about 8-10 people, which is a sizable part of our team (and virtually all of the hardcore, Billfred-is-a-slacker-compared-to-me students). I think we’re going to have a very productive fall.

Since there are few members from RAGE currently posting regularly on CD, I will attempt to answer for them (Ogre, please feel free to edit):
Team is led by elected student officers and organized into committees with adult mentors on each committee. Last year in addition to numerous “adult” mentors we had 5 “college-age” mentors assisting team (3 were team alums; 1 was from a different team; 1 did not participate in FIRST in high school) in teambuilding, programming, drive team, build, scouting, travel and community relations areas.
Robot design/build is a mixture of mentors and students.
This year’s graduating class:
100% attending higher education
2 planning to major in engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute
2 planning to become teachers at state colleges
1 attending Eckard College, FL as marine biology major
1 attending community college majoring in communications (our Chairman’s Award driving force)
1 attending community college majoring in engineering.

I’m not going to answer your main questions, but I do want to give my take on inspiration in FIRST.

Of course, FIRST is supposed to be about inspiring students to go into technical careers. For me, it’s about a little more than that. For me, it’s about showing the students the following (in no particular order):

a) your education can be interesting and even fun. If you look a little farther down the path, you WILL “use this crap”, and “this crap” can even be cool if you know how to use it. However, if you screw off it will be too late for you before you know it (and catching back up can be overwhelming).

b) even if a technical field is not for you, what you are learning now CAN and WILL be used in careers. A high school is not really an ancient form of torture who’s secrets will be shared with you once you graduate. Society wants you to do it for a reason.

c) having a college degree allows you to get much nicer jobs (usually, but not always) than someone without a college degree. Those nicer jobs allow you to have a much nicer lifestyle. (I don’t get too preachy here, but there is a LOT of motivation in money. If you tell someone that they can make $20,000 / year without a college degree, or $50,000 per year with one - that is pretty motivating. Joe Johnson did a great presentation at the 2004 IRI on this topic.)

d) As time goes on, advanced education will become more and more important. There are a lot of highly educated people in China, India, Poland, etc. that would love to do a lot of the jobs that us Americans take for granted (and for a lot less money). How can we compete with that? That’s a great question: you (current students and future workers) are going to have to be VERY GOOD at what you do in order to justify being paid SEVEN TIMES what someone could pay a worker in Poland to do the same job. You have to be SEVEN TIMES as good - keep that in mind.

In summary: your future is only a few years away. It’s time to buckle down and get serious. I hope that FIRST flips on the light switch in their heads. I just want students to become motivated (i.e. inspired) to take education seriously, work hard, and always try to do their best. The future of our way of life may just be riding on it. If they get that, I don’t mind if they don’t go into a technical field.

I don’t think you can measure inspiration in terms of how many students go on to study engineering. You can be inspired in different ways. You could have always wanted to do something else with your life, but still gain a respect for engineering. While FIRST’s main goal is to inspire students about science and technology, I’m sure some students have been inspired on the business/management side of thing as well.

I’m actually having trouble quantifying “inspired”, now that I start thinking about it.

Does inspired mean not knowing anything about engineering/science, and then going on to get a degree and work in those areas? Does it mean joining a FIRST team just for the heck of it, and then loving it so much you spend a good portion of the rest of your high school career doing it? Does it mean gaining a greater understanding and respect for what engineers do? How about those stories of kids who lived rough lives, who seemed to be on the wrong track, and through FIRST got themselves back on the right track?

I can say what inspires me, but I don’t think you can quantify all the different ways the thousands of students in FIRST have/will be inspired by.

We shoot for a 50/50 partnership during design/build between mentors and students working together as a team. Students lead the overall design debating alternatives then voting on the major design decisions. Mentors pipe-up during the debates, then help refine the choices that are made as well as help design the more difficult components.

Student officers run the club (top positions are elected, others appointed by the elected officers). Occasionally advisors step in and take the heat for unpopular decisions based on the student declared objectives. There are of course school/sponsor requirements that must be managed by the team advisors, but the students are kept in-the-loop. There is a separate/parallel parent-lead Booster organization focused on fundraising and reducing the cost per student.

8 of 10 of our 2005 graduates either majoring in or registered for science & technology courses in engineering/aerospace, computer science, physics, biology. Several are undecided on their final majors. We have our success stories including graduates who had never considered engineering before robotics, and full engineering scholarships.
Drew University
George Washington University
Embry-Riddle University
Rensselear Polytechnic Institute
Rochester Institute of Technology
State University of NY (SUNY) Binghamton
SUNY Oswego
SUNY Stony Brook
University of Maryland
[font=Verdana]University of Virginia ]([/font]

All of our alumni thus far have gone on to college, most of them into an engineering discipline.

  • Virginia Tech - Electrical Engineering
  • University of Michigan - Aeronautic
  • Cal Poly Ponoma - Physics/EE? (I forget what he decided on)
  • Virginia Tech - Engineering (Mech… I think)
  • Rensselaer - Triple major Math/Aero/Mechanical (His nickname was “the team”)
  • Virginia Tech - Engineering (I have no idea what field)
  • Hartford - Cinema
  • University of Kentucky - Undecided
  • Earlham - Not engineering

We are student run, with some fields being done entirely by students. Programming/Electrical have never had any mentor involvement, other than “Hey, your code is making the motors turn the wrong way!” :). Mechanical has seen significantly more mentor involvement. In the end, the robot is designed by the collective, with input being considered regardless of it’s source.

Question 1 - My guess is that we have a pretty high degree of inspiration on our team. How do I come to that conclusion? Alumni students who volutneer at IRI year after year. Graduates who pursue careers in engineering and technology. And the fact that after 6 years of doing FIRST I still hear from alumni who were on the team way back when and quite frequently get together with them to reminisce about the old times, both good and bad.

Question 2 - MTU (quite a few, actually), UW-Platteville, UW-Madison, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Fox Valley, Rice, United States Navy, UW-Stout.

Question 3 - Depends on the year, the game and the resources available. We do, however, try to focus much of our attention on our students getting their hands dirty and doing the work. From a teachers perspective it is far more beneficial educationally for students to do things rather than watch them done. Research indicates that understanding and retention increase significantly when the learner is actively engaged. But FIRST isn’t about education, it is about inspiration. I happen to be an educator so I meld the two together. To each his own on how the robot is built - I’m still having fun!

Question 4 - Mostly mentor-managed if your talking about administrative details. Most kids don’t join a robotics team to make hotel reservations or shop for groceries the night before a competition. If you’re talking about management in terms of decision making, it is very much a shared responsibility. For our team, sharing the decision making responsibility inspires ownership in the project at hand.

I CAN say that my students are as devoted as a team where students run themselves! Maybe even more so. There are probably many students out there who do have the ability to lead themselves, however, there do need to be mentors around to guide them when things get rough. We can talk all day long about the professional expertise that mentors bring to teams but I think we are missing one of the biggest assets mentors have: the wisdom of years of life.

When I read some of the posts on CD I’ll pop over to the posters public profile to see how old they are. 95% of the time my guess as to their age is very close. Why? Because there is a time in everyone’s life (and it seems to typically happen during middle school and high school) when they think they know it all. Heck, I had a solid decade in the 80’s when I was certain I knew everything! Then I went to college, got a job, got married and started having kids and I realized that my WHOLE life was going to be a learning experience. That’s why they call it lifelong learning. I don’t know it all. I’ll go to my grave not knowing a fraction of it all. But I will die being satisfied that I have positively impacted the lives of those around me.

Don’t let the medals you win and the trophies on your mantel define who you are. Let it be the lives you’ve touched and the legacy you leave behind.


Oh the inspiration is present. Im constantly inspired to come up with new ideas and i talk with similiar people on other teams. Whether everyone in FIRST is going be a engineer is another matter. Some people are just not going to be engineers. However I think inspiration is pretty high. Our team has swelled from 5 people to 66 and it looks like we will stay strong.

So here’s my 1403 report, its pretty good for a 2nd year team, we’re 3 in December!

**Degree of Inspiration: ** Not, completely sure, its more of an individual thing
Student/Engineer Built: Almost a joint effort 100% of the time, 50% engineer, 50% student, though it fluctuates year to year. For instance in 04 it was 85% student.
Management: Students/Teacher
Alumni I can think of:
Rensselaer-Computer Engineering

i know theres always a few more, every single person thats gone through our team has gone to a 4 year college.

S.P.A.M. 180’s report
Degree of Inspiration: i’m not sure but for me it was personally… most ppl just seem to find S.P.A.M. cool and the people and building a robot yea that’s totally awesome too…since we had a good year in 2002 w/ Fluffy… it seems the team wants to of course take the Championship gold… so that’s a push…though many do want to learn and make a difference…to each their own on the team…on the team there are great mentors that have truly changed students lives and this program of FIRST too

Student/Engineer Built: usually 1/2…depends on the year on the teams… past few years it’s be 70% or so student built
Management: Students/Teacher,… 05 it was more students
what i know…

Cornell, UCF, UF, USF, Northeastern University, Army, FIT, FIU, Georgia Tech. …

mostly gone in to engineering but some into business, accouting and other fields…

well i know i’ve been inspired. keeping this short, i wouldn’t have the interest in software or programming if it wasn’t for FIRST. and now I’m totally addicted to programming, and have way too many programming projects to do at the moment.

also, i’m sure some of the other people have been inspired, and would never have done or learned how to do some of the things they’re doing now if it wasn’t for being involved with FIRST.

(See Phil’s post for 1351’s info. This was just an addition about the are-we-inspired part…)

Honestly, as a former leader of this team and as an international business major, I thank you for saying that. That is exactly what I wanted to say. Coming out of the FIRST experience with the ultimate destination of being an engineer does not necessarily mean you have benefited any more or any less than say, an Ian Mackenzie or a Karthik (Kanagasabapathy? whoa its in spell check)

Quantifying the benefit of FIRST and being inspired is pointless unless you are attempting to count the reach of the program, in that it continues to expand. There will always be the subtle nuances of when a student first picks up a tool and learns not to be afraid of it, or to ignore when some mentor claims that one can put in a washer back wards, compared to when someone realized their ultimate destination should be engineering, as opposed to business. Personally, I think FIRST strives for this type of balance, or at least it should.

These are definitely truthful points. Understanding how to orientate a washer and experiencing the business and leadership aspects of a FIRST team are very important parts of the FIRST program, but they’re not the main objective. FIRST was created to solve the problem that there were not enough youths starting careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The questions in this thread are a crude method to investigate the degree of engineering inspiration on differently run teams. How effective does your team achieve FIRST’s main goal in the current way it is run?

While I’m at it, here’s my two cents and tangent to the topic. The business and leadership aspects of a FIRST team seem to be neglected by the FIRST vision. Both aspects are very important in running an efficient team, and leadership can easily be applied to later in life (not that business can’t). The most recognition FIRST has for these aspects is the Entrepreneurship Award. I suppose it’s underrated because FIRST is focusing on quantity over quality, we don’t really hear any success stories about a FIRST alumnus that is extremely successful from joining FIRST. This is understandable, but still a shame. (If you want to go off topic by continuing this tangent, please do the very least and answer some of the questions if you haven’t already)

Phil, you’ve only addressed the last sentence of Cory’s quoted statement, a statement I have to say is very true. You in fact imply that it is possible to measure who has been “inspired” by what they do later in life. You try to show a correlation between FIRST and going into engineering later, and further try to show causation. This does not exist. Tristan, for example, would have likely said he’d want to be an engineer before FIRST. Jeff, for example, has surely benefitted from the engineering side of FIRST despite the fact that he’s going into business. FIRST has changed people in ways they don’t realize, and mostly for the better. The range is broad; from improving work ethic, to improving self-confidence, to making someone want to go to university, to keeping people out of gangs, to making an arts student want to work for an engineering firms. The possibilities of inspiration are not only endless, but immeasurable, and this *measure *of inspiration being used here does not give everyone credit.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology; there’s that word again. But beside inspiration is another word: recognition. One of the main goals Dean Kamen set out to achieve was to raise awareness of science and technology in the culture. If someone graduates from high school and his FIRST team and goes on to become a construction worker, he might not go and do great things. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t inspired. We may think less of him, but that is not related to how “inspired” he was. Heck, maybe FIRST made him want to be a construction worker instead of a janitor.*

Having said that, I certainly understand the credential and quantifiable aspect of inspiration that this thread is about. I don’t reject the fact that a team that has 100% university students is sure to have inspired more than a team with 50%. I just think a lot is being overlooked by looking at inspiration soleley in this manner. Using your standards however, it’s true not everyone is inspired by FIRST, but a lot more people have been inspired a lot more than you show. On our team alone, I can name far more than 2 recent alumni of 188 that are taking science, math, engineering, or technology courses (they are all in college or university, including numerous Ivy Leagues), so even here your premise about our team going downhill is faulty.

Just sayin’.

*No disrespect to either of these occupations but perception is a powerful thing.

I still do realise (more now than before) that inspiration happens in more ways then one in FIRST, but how could I possibly measure those other ways? Once again, this is a “crude method to investigate the degree of engineering inspiration on differently run teams.” I suppose that I didn’t emphasise this part enough in my first post and I’m very sorry for that.

I admit that it does not give everyone credit, many FIRST alumni aren’t great engineers, but I’m sure they’re great in whatever field they chose as their career. I suppose this is pretty much an opportunity for teams to gloat about their alumni and how great of a university they are attending, but am I to create a new thread to appease the arts students?

I was talking about our last two years of alumni, and if even then I’m still wrong, I simply didn’t know. I suppose it was a bad example of our team to mention only the last two years, because I do recall a lot of our alumni before those two years taking science and technology courses in university. But is our team going downhill? Simply because members aren’t into science and technology as a life career? Of course not!