MARS efforts. suggestions?

So we live in a small city in north-central West Virginia. Approx. 60,000 in Morgantown. We are home of West Virginia University. And before we were started in 2008, there was a struggling FRC team (859) at a local high school, and two FLL teams. Since then, that FRC team has folded. Then we came along. We are not run directly out of the schools. We have 4 high schools, 29 students, 18 mentors. We have gone from being a FIRST team to being a non-profit umbrella organization, providing opportunities to everyone.

In our first year, we set a goal of placing an FLL team in every public and private middle school in the county (around 7). that year, we had teams in all but one public and one private middle school. Many had multiple teams. 2009-2010 we had 14 FLL teams representing 5 counties. We completely sponsor these teams from registration to the kit. We have been working with our 4-H program in WV, spreading throughout the state. We have 3 more counties joining us this year, possibly more. Every other saturday in the FLL build season, we hold mentoring sessions where all of our teams come together, and we mentor in all areas of the competition (tech judging, research project, robot, etc.). The week before the state tournament, we hold a scrimmage for these teams. It is run just like the state tournament, and sponsors and parents volunteer as judges and referees. We give out awards and everything. Over 300 people attend. This is all to prepare teams for the state tournament, and as a result have sponsored the 2007-2009 state champions and 2008-2009 runners-up. And almost all our teams come home with an award. Our teams also make up over half the teams at the state tournament. Our next goal is to have a team in all 55 counties in WV in ten years.

We cover all team members’ travel costs so that financial issues won’t prevent people from participating. We have made presentations to the boys & girls club, the Kaleidoscope summer camp, Engineers of Tomorrow summer camp, area cub scout packs, 4-H clubs, local parades, congressman and the governor, NASA center, BOE, Relay for Life, and many many more. We also participate in the habitat for humanity triathlon to raise money for them.

We have changed our community so much already, and we keep going. We went from our first year, when we were makign a presentation, and some guy on the street said “what the f*** is that supposed to be, some kind of a sat satellite!?” in a really negative tone, to now everywhere you wear a MARS shirt, someone comments about how someone they know participates in lego, or that they saw us in the parade, or something like that. And we have definitely not stopped at the community. We are providing opportunities like FLL to youth throughout the entire state of West Virginia. A traditionally poor state that is traditionally not involved in technology and engineering, especially in the rural areas (that’s most of the state).

My question is, what else can we be doing? We are involved as much as we can, but i know there is more to do. Suggestions from some older, chairman’s award-winning teams? Thank you all so much for your time!!

Oh My God, you guys are awesome!

Some may say you are doing more than enough - witness the actual, visible change to the community.

If you feel a need to do more, community service is always good - helping folks who need help. Maybe a local food bank, or clean up a park, or adopt some stretch of I65, or - well, I dunno. I’m sure there are folks who could use help - find them and help them.

Invite your government to your events. Mayors like stuff like that. Maybe have them issue a proclamation stating how great MARS is. Be sure the newspapers know what you’re doing, and get them some photo opportunities. Girl Scouts are good recruits for robotics.

My 2 cents’

thanks for the suggestions! we do get the local newspapers and the news stations up to date. after each competition and event, the newspapers always have articles about us (the main paper in morgantown is a sponsor). We do hold a food drive at our FLL scrimmages, participate in the relay for life, and the habitat for humanity triathlon. the problem with stuff like that, is that our mentors have day jobs (as much as we deny it).

Do you have your Chairman’s feedback form on you? Look at that first. Honestly if you do all that, and somehow manage to figure out how to improve from THERE, you are a shoe in for EI at 90% of regionals.

If i remember right, the only “negative” thing it said was that we should contact the other FRC teams in West Virginia. There are only 2 others, and we have been making efforts to do that. Other than that, there really wasn’t any other “area for improvement.”

Curriculum changes in the district. Get WVU to sponsor new teams. And then take those teams and form a partnership/collaboration/alliance.

Are you talking about new FRC teams?

As far as curriculum changes, these middle schools are now creating elective classes for FLL so kids can get elective credit. the research project is already integrated into the science curriculum at these middle schools.


And VEX Teams. Lots and lots and lots of VEX teams.

The problem is, Morgantown cannot sustain more than one FRC team. I mean we are barely getting by financially. We are working to put FTC teams in other areas of the state. Most areas won’t support an FRC team; we are talking some areas where there are 30 kids in the county high school. However, we are trying to start FTC teams in these areas. and in larger areas, we will start FTC teams in hopes they will “graduate” to FRC someday. However, we have been hitting roadblock after roadblock in getting these teams started. the main one being trying to find teachers that are willing. But believe me, we are trying. And we hope that once a county has an FLL team or two, they will be more willing to try FTC as well.

FTC Team are not cost effective. Look at more VEX teams in the state. And I meant more FRC teams in your state, not the district or county.

Okay well like i said, most areas will not support a full FRC program. Now, clue me in. What is the difference between FTC and VEX?

Plenty. VEX (was) run by IFI. See the second announcement down in the Portal. It’s cheaper, it’s excellently run, and it’s completely independent of FIRST. The size, material, and challenge difficulty are comparable–an FTC team could easily build a robot to compete in VEX, and vice versa, though rules in both could easily block a robot built by the other group.

In areas that can’t support FRC, start Vex teams. Your team’s ability to recognize that many sustainable Vex teams > a bunch of floundering FRC teams is a very wise thing that so may teams aiming for Chairmans simply ignore, and for that I commend you guys.

Ok well thanks a lot for the information btw! we will look in to this as well. but whether it be FTC or VEX, we still need to find teachers that are willing.

There are already 3 FTC teams in WV. No VEX teams. That being said, i think it will be better if the new teams have teams that they know in their competitions. Plus, we were thinking about holding an FTC scrimmage/competition at the FLL tournament. That way we could be there at both the FLL event and the FTC one as well. And since it is FIRST sponsored, they will probably be more willing to hold FTC than VEX. Idk, like i said we will look in to it and see what we can do.

Thanks! We have already seen multiple FRC teams in WV fold due to lack of funds (and interfering with basketball), and we didn’t want that to happen to our teams. However, we did start one FRC team in WV, but they are no longer doing FIRST.

Keep doing this great stuff, and be patient. For good or for bad, there is only one Chairman’s award handed out at each competition. By the sounds of it, you are clearly doing the right stuff. You guys are still fairly “new” relative to some of the teams that have been doing the same stuff for the last 10-15 years.

Here is an off shoot idea though. Talk with other teams, not only in WV, but other areas of the country to form a networked initiative. Many view the Appalacians as a barrier between the East Coast and the Midwest. Brainstorm some “bridging” ideas. Throw that together with some slogans like “at the top of the mountain, we can see both sides”, and back it up with initiatives that do just that.

Its a culture changing award. It requires some good hard work at changing the culture. We have had our best success using the balanced dinner approach. Your program stuff is the meat. Helping the community is the starch. Helping other teams are the vegetable. If you do this well, you will have a well balanced meal, but you likely won’t get rave reviews. Throw in an interesting dessert, and you will get people talking. The Dessert I refer to is something meaningful and unique. This year we registered all of the Regionals and Districts with Gas Station TV (the TV screens at some gas stations) and did a small marketing campaign through Facebook and Twitter. The point of that campaign was to drive outside traffic and awareness to all of FRC. It aligned with Dean’s Homework, it aligned with “changing culture”, it only cost some time, and it was adaopting relatively new technology (web based marketing) which was kind of unique. Now, the tricky part is if do something unique that actually works, tell others about it so that they can do it to. Don’t save the “good ideas” for your submission as the spirit of the award is “to be a team that others should emulate”. Our “unique” idea for this coming year is recycling engineering magazines by planting them in offices about town. We will be doing a small sprinkling year round with a big push in the fall, and then another right before competition season. This has the trifecta of recycling, inspiring STEM related interest, and will be getting people when they have a long attention span (waiting rooms dentist, doctor, repair shop, hospital, salon…). Most importantly for teams that are cash strapped, it is almost free. We had to buy some paper to print hand-outs. Some staples, and some labels. should cost around $20-40 for the entire project. If you are interested in further details on this subject, PM me and I can fill in the rest of the details.

If you guys are winning EI awards, then you are knocking on the door for Chairman’s. Keep knocking, and the judges will eventually answer.

Thank you for all the suggestions, guys! we really do appreciate it