Recruiting Students to Teams with "non-Standard" Locations

Greetings everyone,

I’m looking for some input from the FIRST community about a problem that has been plaguing my team (and a few others I’ve heard of) for quite some time now regarding recruitment of team members.

Now correct me if I’m wrong in assuming this, but I think its probably safe to say that the majority of FIRST FRC teams are based out their host High School. Now for purposes of recruiting members, this usually give the teams excellent visibility to the student population (students know the team exists), and opportunities to advertise about the team to students (assemblies, football games, homecoming parades, etc.).

My question is not in regards to these teams, but teams like mine that have no traditional High School “home”. To put it simply, how does a team in this position effectively draw students from local schools and/or the community?

Team 703 has had this issue for several years now, we are based out of a High School-level career center which draws Junior and Senior students from local schools to take half-day (3ish hour) programs to train for various work skills in place of certain electives (or articulated course work) at their home schools. The problem we’re facing is that as the numbers of programs and their class sizes diminish in the Engineering and Mechanical area of the “Career Complex”, our team size has also dropped dramatically. Our center also suffers from a lack of interaction between the different classes (unlike a traditional high school where you go to several different classes in a day) simply due to its format, and as a result many people in other programs at our school either don’t know about the robotics team, or those that do, don’t seem to care.

Now granted the obvious solution to this problem (for me at least) would seem to be to show get the word out as much as possible, a few examples include doing an annual demonstration and tour of our lab for graduating 8th grade students from nearly every nearby middle school (who come to tour our career complex every year), occasional demos out at local high schools (when our mentors schedules permit), and even getting involved at events at our sponsors company “Family Day”, and other places like our local children’s museum.

Despite all our continuous efforts however, this year our team had roughly 4 active student members and another 3 to 5 who would show up on the rare occasion. Obviously these numbers are not sustainable, especially since 3 of those 9 or so members have now graduated this year. Personally I’m at a loss at this point, I have to wonder if it’s something we’re just doing wrong, or not doing enough. With around 2000 high school students in our school district alone (and another 1600+ in our very close-by neighboring school district), and only 1 other FIRST team in our immediate area, I can’t think of ANY reason why we should have problems getting a good 25-30 member team, but yet, here we are.

Needless to say I’m open to any suggestions at this point as frankly we’re out of ideas. :confused:

I apologize for the long post, and any rambling, I’d just hate to see an awesome program that I’ve spent a good part of the last 6 years of my life in, fade away because we can’t get new students interested in it. :frowning:

Hey Chris,

Exploding Bacon is one of the ‘non-high school’ based teams and we have been dealing with this problem for a while now. We have students from I think 10 different schools now and 4 different counties (including middle school students and home school students.)

We have had a steady student population of about 30 for the last 4 years or so. We’ve done this by saturating our community with outreach events, LEGO summer camps, LEGO teams, demos, more outreach events, bringing the robot to sponsors facilities, team members schools, 4-H events, movie premiers, department stores, local news stations, the Orlando Science Center, weekend long conferences for businesses like IBM and PTC, the list goes on and on and on.

We try to keep track of all of our outreach events and it usually hovers around 1.3 per week. We have become Level 50 packing ninjas by loading and unloading 120 pound robots into my mothers 2002 Toyota Sienna van multiple times per week.

In addition to our outreaches we also sponsor a number of FLL teams each year (this year the number is 5) and that helps to keep a constant flow of replacement freshman whenever a new class of seniors graduate.

Now, it sounds like you’re already doing some outreach to limited success. My suggestion is to try doing demos in a wider variety of venues. For instance we have gotten a number of students by bringing our FRC robot and a number of smaller Vex bots to our local mall. Also I would suggest looking into any local FLL teams and bringing the robot to them. At Bacon about 20 percent of our students started with LEGO then joined our team after they had gone on to High School.

That’s all I can think of for now.

Keep working at it, and if there is anything we can help with let us know.
-James T. Austin


1610 has some of the same problem. In 2005 we were at the high school, then in 2006 were at a
community college here, then in 2007 were back at the high school til 2008
then we were moved to a unused school gym that had been
the gym for the original 1920’s high school which had been torn down, but the gym was a
free standing building that was later used for the middle school. A few years ago they built a
new gym for the middle school and the old gym was empty again.
we couldn’t compete in 2009 because we were moved so late and the school
system had to modify the gym for our use (we also share it with wrestling
during their season) and since 2010 we have been there. We end up recuiting
thru the high school thru word of mouth, school announcements and a couple of
demostrations. Last year we opened team membership up to 8th graders of the
middle school and that helped greatly. Some kids on our team had been on the
FLL team when in elementary school. We also do community events and demos
on and off during the year. Our high school has only about 400 students and that doesn’t
help either. We have to compete with many sports also for students and often have
to work around sports schedules to help retain students.

From what I read, it sounds like your program is similar to my school district’s CAPS program. CAPS stands for the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. It’s pretty much the same as your “Career Center” building. Anyways, our team functions as an extra curricular activity who happens to work out of CAPS. We do our recruitment through having members from each school put up posters and our PR team keeps track of each schools respective “activity night” where the clubs for the school run a booth to showcase their club. I suggest that you get in contact with either members from each school or each administration and ask if you can put on demonstration nights (or even STEM assemblies if you can pull that off with some other choice clubs). Basically what I’m saying is that your Career Center is just your meeting place; the local schools should be where you’re drawing from.

If you need further assistance, you can PM me here or email me at [email protected].

We are from an Academy that I believe originally had 5 different high schools participating. Some have fallen by the wayside and some have teams that we’ve started.

The trick is to go TO the school. Lunch hour works best - and demonstrate. Go to their freshman orientation (most schools have it) and set up a demonstration area. Let them drive the robot if possible. In every case - get names, emails, and phone numbers. Follow up with them. Have them come to team events if you can.

It’s all about follow up. The hardest part is getting started, but once you get a core group of kids in a given school, it’s a bit like hitting critical mass. Those kids will encourage others to join, and your job will be much easier.

I agree with Tom, you need to go to the school(s) and demo. There is always some kind of intro for incoming eighth graders, parent’s nights, club displays nights etc. You have an advantage since the center is already working close with the schools, you can just tag along when they make their presentations.

Our situation isn’t exactly the same, but it’s not too dissimilar. We’re a part of the school, but have an off-site build space. It’s a private school, and as a result draws from a huge number of middle schools in the area.

We do a few things to help with recruitment, though. To recruit freshmen, we try to get into local middle schools for demos, prioritizing them based on where enrollment typically comes from (you’re center can probably give you some idea on the demographics behind their enrollment). We work with the school to push out a letter to all families of incoming freshmen (in the April-May time frame). This letter explains the program, directs them to our website, and invites them to our 2-week summer camp. This usually gets 3-4 freshmen to the camp.

We also rely on current members to recruit their friends and classmates. This usually helps us get another 3-4 sophomores or juniors to the summer camp each year.

The main aim of the summer camp is pretty simple: student excitement and retention. We aren’t trying to rebuild a robot or anything like that… we try to find fun stuff the team can do, like build a Rube Goldberg machine (I’ll be posting a video of it as soon as I remember to pull it off my phone!) or have a mousetrap car competition. Our activities are oriented around engineering and include a heavy portion of training - we want the students to use most of our tools and equipment during the summer program to help take some of the “fear” out of it.

We typically retain most, if not all, of the students that show up to the summer camp.