Starting a FIRST Alumni Association

Hey CDenizens, I’d like to pick your collective brains.

Having just started my freshman year of engineering at Tennessee Tech, I’m quite disappointed to find that there is virtually zero FIRST presence in my area. The distribution of FRC teams across Tennessee is a bit uneven, with Middle Tennessee being almost bereft of FRC teams. At some point (not immediately), I’d like to remedy this situation.

My first thought is that I’d like to give the FIRST alumni at my university a chance to continue in FIRST by volunteering at events and trying to promote the growth of FRC in the Upper Cumberlands. So my questions are:

From the perspective of those involved with or more familiar with FIRST Alumni Associations, is this the path I should take to give FIRST Alumni an outlet and a way to continue their involvement?

And if so, how would I go about creating a FIRST Alumni Association at my University, and what can I do to ensure its success?

Thanks in advance!

I would absolutely encourage you to take the path you are interested in taking. BUT I want to add some quick advice before I explain more.

I think one of the guiding values of FIRST is to explore and learn, and college is an amazing time to do so. I applaud your interest in continuing with FIRST and I hope you do. But make sure you try many and different things. There might be something out there that would be amazing to do WHILE you also do FIRST.

Ok. So the path of making an alumni assoc is a great idea. You should absolutely shoot to create an official student organization, looking at TN Tech’s manual (if this is the right one) you need to find at least 15 interested charter members.

So steps:

  1. Create an informal group (maybe Facebook or maybe just friends) of 15 people.
  2. Start volunteering with them or encourage them to volunteer OR just have gatherings
  3. Start an association
    3a. Read the manual
    3b. Find a faculty advisor
    3c. Consider partnering with FIRST organization in Tennessee

Steps to take to ensure “success”:

  • Recruit more members and do #2 with them
  • As you get larger, look for funding from the school to host events - competitions or workshops or scrimmages
  • Look to engage corporations, or foundations currently not engaged in FIRST
  • Start building a mentorship program, where college students can connect with area FLL & FTC & FRC teams. If no FRC, then FTC, if no FTC then FLL
  • MAINTAIN and BUILD your relationships. You’re trying to build a network where your association is the center, so avoid burning bridges, always build.

Hope that can help you get started!

My exp - I helped start a similar organization at UIUC, although it morphed into something else.

Other resources - Purdue FIRST & GO FIRST

PM if you have any more questions.

I was going to suggest watching the presentation from FIRST Championship on staying involved with FIRSt programs in college, but it appears those conferences (despite being taped) never made it up. If someone knows where those are, it would be great to see them, because there were some truly fantastic presentations.

Both GOFIRST (my organization) and Purdue FIRST are older organizations, and I’m not sure how helpful anyone from those groups will necessarily be when it comes to advice for starting a group. I would definitely recommend getting in contact with FAMNM, since they are a more recent addition to a growing group of FIRST Alumni organizations (FAOs).

That being said, here’s my advice for getting started, but take it with a grain of salt because I never started a student group, I only joined one.

I would follow a similar path as Sravan suggested. You first need to find those alumni or people who are interested in robotics/volunteering. Once you find those people, you need to find out what they want, and what they think would be valuable goals for the group. Some FAOs are solely dedicated to volunteering-- GOFIRST started this way, while others also mentor teams, host events, or participate in collegiate level competitions. GOFIRST does a mixture of all of these things, but it might make sense (just like with robots) to focus on doing what your group is really passionate about first.

Once you have an informal group, you’ll want to figure out who to contact at your school to help you get through the necessary paperwork and find funding (assuming you need that). You’ll want to get really familiar with your schools rules regarding student groups, and someone on the inside is the best person to do that. From there, it’s probably going to be more context-dependent.

Best of luck, and feel free to reach out to me via PM or email if you have any further questions!

G3 (gixxy) had a similar situation at LA Tech in Ruston, at least a half an hour from the nearest FRC team. He did manage some programming mentor support his freshman year, but afterwards, he could not even establish solid comms with the team. He went on to become an officer in on-campus organizations (including American Computing Machinery and Society of Cyber Engineering), and competing in on-campus competitions (captain of a victorious cyber storm team).
That is, try to work with what already exists where you are. If that fails, and you can identify some kindred souls, then you may want to start something new.

Thank you for the responses!

At the moment, I am just looking to create a way for FIRST alumni to stay connected to the community throughout college. Also, I want to increase the supply of volunteers in my state. Talking to FIRSTers involved with TNFirst, I heard that Tennessee is not retaining many of its alumni whatsoever, even though the vast majority of Tennessee students stay in-state for college.
Starting a new club at TTU is supposedly a painful an arduous task, but I’m hoping that my neighbor (newly elected to the Student Government) can help with that. After that, I’ll just have to scrounge up the requisite amount of charter members.

Also, I appreciate what you’ve said about starting new things. I can assure you, Baja SAE is becoming just as much of an obsession as FRC was for me in high school, though the program is much more of a competition than FIRST is. Having just got back from an off-season Baja race, I can report that there are some interesting similarities and differences between FRC and Baja SAE.

Thanks again!

As the others said, step one is definitely getting interested people together. You don’t need to be a formal student group right away, especially if you’re not immediately looking for funding. But funding can be helpful. For example, FAMNM reimburses expenses for mentors and key volunteers travelling to events. You may also be able to get funds for social events; free food really brings people together.

Anyway, as you get further along in the process, feel free to reach out again. FAMNM just started about a year and half ago, so we’re still going through growing pains. We’re also helping to start another chapter at Michigan State called FAMNMS.

P.S. when it comes to Baja or other project teams, the same rule that applies to FIRST applies here: school first. Don’t let your grades get screwed up!

One of the best ways to increase alumni retention during the crazy college years is through event volunteering. Maybe you can get a group of volunteers to help at Smokey Mountain and maybe another not to far off regional in another state. Eventually it would be cool to set the goal of hosting event after volunteering a bit. With a motivated and organized volunteer crew you can really help any event get off the ground with a few people with training on different Key Volunteer positions.

Event volunteering is a great lower touch commitment when there are other priorities in life.