Inspiring Students by Mark Pierce

Published on 16 March 2004 in Family (Please wait)

This is my son five years ago. We were participating in the FIRST Regional Robotics Competition in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the first for both of us. Steve’s mentor had asked him to install some parts for the control system. My wife snapped this picture as he got to work. The shot captures Steve, our team’s robot, and a small glimpse of the other activity in the pit area. In this picture I see trust, opportunity, confidence, concentration, skill, and much more. Just another moment in what for thousands of us is an awesome experience year after year.

As an engineer and mentor this picture captures the essence of the FIRST robotics competition. The acronym is “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”. The goals include creating a demand from students for more and better technical education. We hope to help change a society from one that honors primarily entertainers and athletes to one that also recognizes the importance of those who improve our lives. The experience of getting to know engineers and other mentors on professional and personal levels gives students a great introduction to the possibilities of engineering and other technical disciplines. The program is growing every year, with over 900 teams this year.

Part of what makes this picture special to me is it being my son, part of our team which we help start. He’s working on our robot which we helped build from an assortment of parts and raw materials. It seemed natural that he would be the one to do this task. After all, he helped wire and program the robot. The trust shown by the engineers and the team was a great gift to my son. His confident attitude and willingness to try new things were encouraged and strengthened by such trust and opportunities. During his involvement with the team Steve confidently talked with engineers, business leaders, and congressmen. He became a team leader and helped recruit teachers and new sponsors. The skills and confidence gained are helping him do great things in his life.

Scenes like this don’t seem unusual to me anymore, but they are to most of the world. This picture brings to mind hundreds of similar moments I’ve witnessed since then. When I look at this picture, I remember all the sights and sounds of competition. I remember the gracious professionalism, the challenges, the fun, the friendships, the exhaustion, and everything else that I’ve experienced in FIRST. I hope for a future when scenes like this are commonplace to most of the population, just as familiar as the student athlete or musician.

Steve has moved on to college now, and I’ve moved on to helping another team. As I get ready for our next competition, I look at this picture, remember where we started, and dream about where this program is taking all of us. Then I start thinking about how we can do more to help some students on programming, presentations, making parts, etc. I think about how we can help start a new team or do things better next time. And so it continues.

Mark Pierce (Grandville, MI, USA)

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