Pablo Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it must find us working”. Nobody works harder to inspire than FIRST Team 340. We know there’s no “I” in team, but we embrace the “I” in FIRST.
In order to inspire as a team, you need to learn as a team. To transfer knowledge from mentors to veterans to rookies, we implemented GRR University. This sequence of workshops covered topics from drivetrains and pneumatics to shop safety and community outreach. If you walked in not knowing a thing about Team 340 or FIRST, you would walk out ready to inspire others.
As we start on our 15th season, we’ve spent time looking back on how far we’ve come and the connections we’ve made. One of the connections we’re most proud of is with our school. When our team was founded in the fall of 1999, we worked at a Nortel Networks facility, our title sponsor at the time. Our early success convinced the school to build a brand new Technology Wing in 2003. Each year we present to our Board of Education, who are impressed with the work we do. “Anything you need, just ask,” says Mrs. Kathleen Dillon, BOE president. Our school also recognizes our team at pep rallies, which are typically a stage for sports teams. Every year the students get on their feet when we present our robot, which shows us that we’ve succeeded in inspiring a cultural change in our school. Although we do all of our work at Churchville-Chili High School, our district does not limit the team to just our students. Since our beginning we have opened the team to kids from the greater Rochester area, including 10 different school districts.
Beyond our school, if you haven’t seen the impact of Team 340, we encourage you to take a closer look. Over the past 5 years, GRR has participated in over 17,000 hours of community service, which has led to 76 students receiving the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Our most inspirational endeavor is our annual Make a Difference Day Mega Drive. In 2011, we invited Team 1511 to join us in our efforts. Now we have 20 teams helping us. This year we held a two day event that coincided with an offseason competition in Rochester, consisting of an electronics, book, and food drive. The following weekend, we continued the event at a local mall and raised funds for Haiti disaster relief. For our 2012 efforts, we were selected as one of ten National Make a Difference Day Award recipients. We traveled to Washington, D.C. to accept the award and were featured in the USA Weekend Magazine, which reaches 48 million people. The award consisted of $10,000, which we made into a grant to foster robotics teams across NYS.
We believe that the biggest impact that Greater Rochester Robotics has made is with the people we meet face to face. Team 340 has done many things to educate people about FIRST Robotics, including 178 demonstrations in the past five years. We can be found at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, the New York State Fair, and local parades and festivals. Our robots have been shown at professional and minor league sporting events, like hockey, baseball, lacrosse and football.
Our impact can be felt outside of our community as well. Demonstrating our robot at the Buffalo Bills Kids Day is a favorite among all team members. Over the course of the day, 28,000 people have a chance to see our robots and hear what we’re about. Parents are amazed as their children spend time building Lego creations and driving our robot. At the same time, our students are sharing information about FIRST to a large audience.
Over the past two years, a team goal was to increase our presence within the New York State government. Team 340 started this by contacting Governor Cuomo. His office asked us to meet with the Secretary of Education to show the benefits of FIRST Robotics. Wanting to make a good impression, we set out for Albany and met with Katie Campos, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. After showing Katie and others our robot and introducing our plan for expanding FIRST in New York State, she said “This was the best meeting I have ever had!” As a result, we were invited to speak to the Governor’s Commissioned Panel for Education Reform about FIRST Robotics and our proposal for a grant to fund every level of FIRST in NYS.
Our team knows it takes hard work to achieve our goals. To do this, GRR has formed a partnership with our State Senator, Mike Ranzenhofer. In May, we invited him to tour our facilities, drive our robot and learn about FIRST. While at our school, he learned that we were invited by Assemblyman Harry Bronson to make another trip to Albany. Mr. Bronson arranged to have the team show our robot in the Legislative Office Building, as well as be recognized by the State Assembly for our efforts in spreading science and technology in NYS. Mr. Ranzenhofer, in turn, invited us to be recognized on the floor of the State Senate for our efforts in community outreach. It was inspiring for team members to stand on the floor of both chambers and be given a declaration of our achievements. Most recently we worked with Mr. Ranzenhofer on an electronics drive that successfully kept over 50,000 pounds of electronics out of landfills. We are continuing to work with them to gain support for the implementation of our grant proposal, allowing NYS to give schools money to start FIRST Teams.
Team 340 has been helping to start FIRST teams for more than ten years. We have built relationships with people who wanted to create FRC teams. We began with neighboring schools by forming over 40 FLL and FTC teams, which has established a base for starting FRC programs. We have worked with alumni, parents, local college groups and sponsors to help fund new programs. Using these ideas and others we have started 11 FRC teams and have mentored countless others.
In 2013, we didn’t qualify for Championship for the first time in our team history. Instead of feeling down, we viewed it as a chance to volunteer at Championship. A group of our students and mentors raised money to travel to St. Louis. We had students helping with field reset, awards and other various jobs and some of our mentors worked on a web-series and assisted in the media center. This effort did not go unrecognized by FIRST. The group had an article that was featured in the FIRST newsletter about their efforts at Championship and about how our team commits to volunteering.
Malcolm Nicradomus said “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Team 340 has been preparing since we started our first FIRST Lego League team and held an FLL exhibition in 2005. The future of our team depends upon the experiences of the next generation of students. This year we hosted our first Jr.FLL Summer Camp, with the help of our FLL and FTC teams. We also attracted young robotics students with our Fifth Annual FLL Summer Camp. One of our FLL campers, expressed his excitement and that he had been waiting 2 years to attend. When we held our FLL pre-season meeting, his mother made sure he was the first one there.
In 2013, we tried new ideas and enhanced our original programs. A group of our veterans mentored an unregistered special needs FLL team and we continue to sponsor and mentor six more FLL teams. One of these teams, with our assistance, has created a milk pasteurization system for the Peace Corps to be used in Nicaragua. For the past seven years, our team has been coordinating and running our own FLL Qualifying Event. Furthermore, we helped start and mentor 3 FTC Teams and 2 VEX teams. One of our FTC teams consisted of a group of Girl Scouts who started in FLL. That team was partially funded by the FIRST Mega Drive Grant.
The FIRST ideals have continued on with our alumni well after high school graduation. The websites, “FRC Top 25” and “FRC Designs”, are products of GRR Alumni. Many of our graduates have chosen to return to mentor our team. Others have moved outside of the area and have gone on to mentor or start other teams. Team 340 alumni can be found from Maine to California, working for companies like National Instruments, Cisco Systems, and Boeing. Several alumni have taken the principles of FIRST and applied them to their current endeavors. One of our alumni is working on her chemical engineering degree. She has asked us to help her fundraise so that she may travel to Malawi, Africa to implement engineering projects to help improve living conditions. She is one example of the great things our alumni are doing. We are proud that FIRST has inspired 89% of our alumni to pursue a STEM career.
Another source of pride and inspiration comes from helping other teams. GRR routinely opens its doors to teams during build season, helping them to do what’s necessary to complete a working robot. We have helped teams rebuild their robots at events so they could compete. Our help hasn’t stopped at robots; many teams have come to us to ask our assistance with their Chairman’s Award.
Team 340’s success is based on the strong bond we have with our sponsors. Since 2004, our title sponsor has been Bausch + Lomb (B+L). In 2013, their company was acquired by Valeant Pharmaceuticals and our partnership was in question. B+L encouraged Valeant to gradually reduce our sponsorship over the next four years instead of just severing our connection.
We began to actively reach out to possible new sponsors. As a result, Frontier Communications offered to meet with us. They are interested in becoming involved with the work that we do, including stronger methods of spreading FIRST. Additionally, Frontier would like to provide employment and internships to team alumni. We hope this relationship will continue to grow for years to come.
Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” From little kids to professional engineers, Greater Rochester Robotics has been an inspiration to the individuals we come in contact with.