2015 Essay

President Barack Obama said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."  Greater Rochester Robotics embodies this quote by being leaders of change, in our community, state and beyond. We change our students into thinkers and doers. We change the people we reach into believers. We change our government into our biggest supporters. Through our continual efforts, we want to change you.

Changing our students began with a revamped GRR University. GRR U is a series of classes lead by mentors and Team 340 veterans which teaches students new skills. When discussing the benefits of GRR U LeVell said, “It allows not only rookies, but other students to find their voice and place on the team.” This year we added three new classes including one on Edgecam, which gave the team a chance to learn how to go from CAD to CAM to CNC machining. Additional GRR U classes include marketing, electrical, pneumatics, shop safety and scouting. We finish with a Mock Kickoff, which is a team building event for students to experience what the real kickoff is going to be like while teaching them about strategic planning.

The evolution of GRR members continues through their participation in the FIRST Tech Challenge(FTC). This provides them with the experience of working through the process of building a robot and the opportunity to compete. When asking a rookie member about her experience, Megan said, “I learned what it was going to be like to create a robot with a challenge in mind, how to work as a team, and bounce ideas off one another.” Veteran members gain leadership skills by mentoring the FTC Team. With the success of using an engineering notebook through the FTC season, we decided to implement an FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) notebook as well. We have shared the notebook with a rookie team in Tennessee and a veteran team in Pennsylvania to improve communication between their subteams throughout build season. Before starting our own FTC team, we helped create teams for public schools, Girl Scouts, and for an inner city group at the University at Buffalo. In addition to mentoring teams, our members also volunteer at FIRST Lego League (FLL) and FTC competitions to insure the events success.

Building a strong bond with our school allows us to help change the way they teach STEM through Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classes using robotics and FIRST as a guide. Our administration acknowledges the benefits of robotics and in return gives internship credit for participation on the team. We use the facility they created for the robotics team to house machinery including: a new 3-axis CNC mini mill, a 3D printer, welding station, and other machines and tools. This leads to a hands-on learning experience.  The connection between the skills we learn in our PLTW classes transfer, not only to robotics, but also into the real world.

Our team provides opportunities for younger students to become doers and explore STEM through multiple summer camps and participation in other FIRST programs. In 2013 we started a Jr. FLL camp, which we expanded into two camps this past summer. This year we hosted our 6th annual week long FLL summer camp which has shaped the lives of over 120 kids since its beginning. For the past five years we have mentored and sponsored 27 FLL teams and hosted seven FLL qualifiers.

By assisting and developing connections with other FRC Teams, our team has become a leader within the FIRST community. With the help of our alumni we have created 12 FRC Teams and helped countless others. From helping FIRST Team 1511 host a FRC Workshop to helping multiple teams such as 5149 and 4023 with their robots. But one of our most recent crowning achievements has been guiding Team 4930 through their rookie year. We had the opportunity to help them scout, create a pick list, provide housing and assisted them with writing their submissions for not only FIRST awards but also funding grants. “Knowing there was a group of people available to answer any questions we might have, made us at ease as we maneuvered our way through our rookie year” said Ava, 4930 member. For the inaugural Tech Valley Regional, we arrived early to beat the on-coming snowstorm and helped with set up and load-in arriving teams. At every event we look for ways to help. It is not just the students from Team 340 that you see volunteering, 23 of our mentors volunteered at Finger Lakes Regional last year. Apart from local FIRST events, we also have members of our team volunteering at World Championship. In 2013 FIRST wrote a news article about members of our team and the community service work that we have done. Even after graduation, our alumni continue to be ambassadors of FIRST.

Changing our community into believers starts with a hands on FIRST experience. After 179 demonstrations we have successfully given the public the opportunity to interact with our team and drive our robot. Buffalo Bills Kids Day is one of the biggest events we tackle, engaging 28,000 fans. Not only does the crowd enjoy the football game, they get to learn about our “sport of the mind.” New this year we worked the FIRST exhibit at the Mini Makers Faire for NYS Curriculum for Advanced Technological Education and we look forward to a continued partnership with them. Furthermore, largely due to our efforts, the Rochester Museum and Science Center is a substantial supporter of FIRST. We were invited to the Big Bang Gala where influential members of the community came out to celebrate the 100th birthday of the museum. The highlight of our evening was when one of our students taught astronaut, Col. Pamela Melroy, how to drive our robot.

Over the past five years we have done more than 15,000 hours of community service which has allowed 71 of our members to receive the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Greentopia and Waste Management’s “Dinner at the Dump” are two service events to educate the public about saving the earth. Beyond our dedication to make a change in our local community, you can see our team making a change in the global community. A new volunteering opportunity at InterVol has allowed us to help recycle unused, sterilized medical supplies which we sort and send to communities in Africa and Central America where we have helped in the past. In Malawi, we supported an alumna in her “engineering without borders” eco-friendly projects this past summer. In Nicaragua, we worked with one of our FLL Teams to send temperature indicators for milk pasteurization, as well as sending animals through Heifer International. Not only are we making a change in our community, but we are also helping out and making improvements through assisting those in need around the world.

Wanting to give back to our community of believers our team created FIRST Mega Drive to support Make A Difference Day. Over the past four years, this multi-day community service initiative has coincided with the Rochester Ruckus, an off-season FRC competition.Over the course of three days, teams participating in the event; donated food, books, and electronics, demonstrated their robots and had an opportunity to donate blood in collaboration with the American Red Cross. In 2013, we were honored by Points of Light as a Make A Difference Day finalist and were awarded $10,000. Our project was published in the USA Weekend Magazine which reached over 42 million people. The money awarded to our event was used to create a grant to help sustain and create four FRC and two FTC teams in New York State.

Our team has been building a stronger relationship with our local and state Governments turning them into our biggest supporters. Every year we visit our town board to share our accomplishments, show our robot, and invite them to our local regional competition. We contacted the New York Secretary of Education’s office and traveled to Albany to present our robot and our desire to have the State start a grant that will allow every school the opportunity to start FIRST teams. After our visit with the Secretary’s office, we were asked to speak to the Governor’s Commissioned Panel for Education Reform. State Senator Ranzenhofer visited our school facility and was impressed by our students achievements, which led to our second visit to Albany. While there, we were recognized by the State Senate and Assembly and demonstrated our robot in the Legislative Office Building. In order to advance our grant proposal, we have met with Assembly Member Harry Bronson; he along with Senator Joe Robach, have written letters of request for funding for our FIRST grant in the 2015 NYS Budget.

We would not be able to accomplish change without the support of our sponsors Bausch + Lomb and Frontier Communications. They continue to believe in our robotics team and the changes we are making in STEM education. To thank them for their support we have written thank you letters and visited them at their businesses showing off our robot, Our community has supported us in our fundraising efforts at our Annual Golf Tournaments and the Armed Forces’ Air Shows. Team 340 will continue to represent our sponsors and community in a positive and professional manner, and seek new opportunities to expand our relationships.

No matter where we are Team 340 strives to be leaders of change. By spreading the change, we strive to broaden our influences and change more people. We started with our community and now push to impact our state and beyond because we truly believe we are the change that we seek.