My involvement with the FIRST Robotics program began six years ago when one of our Aerospace and Defense clients asked to “borrow a laptop for a robotics team that is going to a world championship.”
I was so enthralled by the program that we donated a couple dozen laptops to FIRST Quebec for a summer robotics training camp and allowed students to keep the laptops if they stayed in the program.
Little did I know, scores of CSC people were already involved with FIRST, doing it quietly and without fanfare, mostly since their kids were involved.
The FIRST programs involve kids from kindergarten to 18 years of age and beyond, since many alumni return as mentors. The programs provide an introduction to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects. I look at these students as our future leaders, clients, partners and colleagues. And I often encounter our current clients and prospects supporting FIRST teams as well, giving CSC employees a unique opportunity to work side by side with them on a shared passion.
The program has many benefits, for both students and volunteers.
For instance, we teach the kids how to speak in public. FIRST pushed me to go beyond my normal comfort zone for public speaking. My next hurdle is getting in front of a camera, with 2,000 kids listening!
On a personal note, I know own my kids would have benefited from participating in such a program when they were in school. And I know I’ve grown through my volunteer work.
Recently, I was surprised and tremendously honored to be recognized as Volunteer of the Year at the Montreal Regional Championship. In my mind, I received the award on behalf of the incredible work done by the team in Quebec/Canada.
Preparing our future workforce
It is not all science and technology. These kids learn to work as a team to solve problems and come to consensus for the good of the team. They learn how to use all resources at their disposal, from human to financial to material. They do CAD work, use tools, manufacture and order parts (like a supply chain). They use big data when compiling competitive information on other teams, so they make sound decisions on who to join as an alliance. These are all skills that could one day support them in the Aerospace and Defense field, which is looking for the next generation of talented scientists and engineers. And from a practical standpoint, these experiences prepare them for success in nearly any industry.
FIRST Robotics gives all kids — rich or poor, scientists, accountants or marketing gurus — an equal opportunity. This is the only sport where everyone gets to turn pro! (I didn’t make that up; it came from founder Dean Kamen.) With program like FIRST, young women can embrace STEM, getting involved at a young age and increasing their opportunity to break into these careers.
World championship competition
CSC has sponsored a couple of dozen teams across the world, and we’ve had some big successes. In the FIRST Robotics Championship (FRC) for 14- to 18-year-olds, we’ve sponsored six World Championship participating teams from the United States and Canada. Other teams have won at the regional level.
But it is not about winning awards and competitions. And it’s definitely about more than the robots! When I see the progress that some teams have made in the few years we have been participating, I am humbled by their abilities. Some take home awards; some take home memories, but all bring home new skills!
From a volunteer standpoint, we do just about everything: We judge at championship events; we host Lego-build parties with staff members, partners, clients, families and sponsored teams. We’ve donated dozens of laptops from our surplus pool to schools in need, most recently several First Nations schools. We helped launch new First Lego League (FLL) and Jr. FLL teams and provided toolkits to two to three rookie teams — one of which went to the World Championship! We even added CSC-branded items and some home-baked treats.
Right now, we are preparing 80 laptops for FIRST Canada library program to introduce even more children to STEM through Legos.
I guess if I admitted it, my passion for FIRST helps to inspire others to get involved. I managed to get three other CSC staff members to mentor team 3550 – Robotronix. We donated laptops and taught the kids how to install CAD and programming software. We built props and donated a Raspberry PI for a Grade 9 student to work on a vision system. We drove trucks with supplies and ran errands. We laughed, and we dug splinters out of our fingers because we did not wear gloves like we were supposed to.
Be a mentor!
None of this would be possible without the support of the CSC Charitable Foundation and Candace Labelle’s drive to ensure we have grants and programs for STEM-oriented initiatives. The Robotics Committee lost a couple of valuable people this year, but we found a couple of equally valuable people to join us!
I encourage everyone in the technology field to help us grow our mentor base for hands-on work with the teams. We have the beginnings of a great global program, but I think we can challenge ourselves to have volunteers in all regions, working and growing side-by-side with clients, partners and tomorrow’s leaders. Learn more on the FIRST Inspires website.
Jim Forbes is a CSC Account Executive serving Pratt & Whitney Canada, part of the UTC account. He has supported IT services and manufacturing industry clients since joining CSC in 2000.