The following text is team 862’s Chairman’s Award Submission for the 2017 season, which thoroughly describes the team’s involvement with its sponsors, its community, and FIRST. The theme chosen for this season was a “private eye” theme, which was centered on an investigation of Lightning Robotics led by the prestigious Detective Watt.
It was a dark and stormy night. I felt a surge of power come from the case file. It all started 17 years ago, when there was an increase in STEM interest within the high school students of Plymouth-Canton that continues to grow to this day. I quickly realized there was much more to this story. The newfound interest was sparked from FIRST. I began looking into the source of this interest. I was surprised to see that not only the local students had been affected; the entire community was impacted as well. Now I was sure of the source: this was the team known as FRC862 Lightning Robotics. As I laid the case file down, the facts came out like an eloquent tale.
Here’s some background on the team I’m studying. I traced their origin back to 1999, when they only had 3 mentors and 7 students. As of this year, they have grown to 131 students. I thought it would be difficult managing a team of this size, until I noticed something different about their structure. After a little research, I found they operate with 7 subgroups to improve organization. These groups are lead by student leaders and mentors. The subgroups are governed by a student leadership board, which includes a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. This board helps manage the team’s main operations, and the individual student leaders guide and assist their rookies and veterans. To monitor student activity and attendance, the team has transitioned from an “hours card” to a card-scanning system, developed by their own Programming subgroup. All students are given an equal opportunity to participate as a part of the team’s “mentor hands-off” approach which make students responsible for tasks and decisions. An example of the student-led team is shown during concept sketching at the beginning of build season. Each and every member of the team works together to create and improve possible designs of the team’s new robot.
[su_expand link_align=”center”]Through my observations, I realized their impact is more than just students taking a growing interest in STEM. Going deeper, I could see that they had extended their reach into local businesses and their community as well. Their influence is felt through events aimed to spread the messages of FIRST and inspire younger generations.
Through my sources, I caught wind of an event called the Robot Unveil, which is held by Lightning Robotics to show their creation to parents, sponsors, and their school faculty. Something was clear at that moment: the team couldn’t have made it this far without the gracious support of many business partners. It came to my attention that of the 280 attendees, there was a major player at hand: Robert Bosch LLC. This company has supported Lightning Robotics since 2007 not only financially, but also by helping them spread the message of FIRST. Bring Your Robot to Work Day is one example; at this annual event, Lightning demonstrates their accomplishments to employees to spark interest in mentoring FIRST teams. After years of collaboration, they have built a strong partnership. Bosch allows Lightning to use their facilities when needed and 23% of Lightning mentors are Bosch employees.
This form of cooperation isn’t restricted to Lightning only. Starting with FRC 3414 and 862, the company reached out with scholarship and internship opportunities, which is now a nationwide program for Bosch-sponsored teams. In 2015, Bosch helped Lightning form a strategic partnership with Schoolcraft College, who is now a valued sponsor, offering classes to the Lightning students such as CNC training. Members of these sponsor groups teach at the team’s all-new Leadership College, held over the summer of 2016. The program trains new student leaders, discusses management, and new ideas for Lightning’s operations through the guests’ presentations. However, Bosch and Schoolcraft are not the team’s sole benefactors. In total, Lightning works with 36 sponsors, and are always looking to add to their resources to ensure stability through economic fluctuations. For example, in the 2017 season they were joined by 9 more supporters, including Nissan and Mel Printing Company.
After some eyewitness reports, I concluded that Team 862 has become involved with their local community by reaching out to different audiences. They not only support them, but also spread the message of FIRST. My first source recalled that over 11 years, Lightning has raised over $46,100 for Relay for Life of Canton, an event supporting the American Cancer Society. Others recounted that the team participates in an array of community events each year like the Salvation Army Bell Ringing, United Way Make a Difference Day, Plymouth Rotary Chicken Dinner, Plymouth Fourth of July Parade, Michigan State Fair Parade, and Schoolcraft College Kids on Campus. An event created by Lightning is the Girl Scout Robotics Exploration Day. Since its start in 2014, 217 girl scouts have attended and received their unique Robotics Exploration badge. The scouts rotate around 7 student-run activities which aim to further knowledge in STEM and robotics concepts, including “STEM Careers” and a tower building challenge.
Another witness remembered that in April 2016, Lightning had been invited to host a robot demo at Digital Divas, an Eastern Michigan University event to interest high school girls in STEM. Their presence was so inspiring that in November 2016, at the middle school Digital Divas, they were invited to host their own breakout session for 3 groups of students from 6 schools. The female Lightning students introduced the students to FIRST and explained how STEM can benefit them with hands-on activities, including making rubber band cars and driving a robot. Due to their positive feedback, the team has been invited to host a breakout session at the April 2017 high school level Digital Divas.
A large group of witnesses were excited to share their experiences at an interactive event called Robots in the Park. This free event was created by Lightning to inspire local preschool and elementary schoolers to learn about STEM and FIRST. In only its second year of existence, over 3,100 visitors participated in the event, in 9 activities such as building bristlebots, driving FRC robots and building rockets. I wondered how they quickly engaged so many people. I found that they used a number of methods of promotion such as theirs school website, flyers, social media, and robot demonstrations at local summer concerts. Their sphere of influence is expanding at an incredible rate and it has no signs of slowing.
These positive eye witness reports inspired me to attend a FIRST event to see Lightning in action. A total of 160 teams have competed in Lightning hosted and run FTC events since 2012. At the latest competition, the students, mentors, and parents of 862 made up 73% of the volunteers. As of 2016, the number of FTC teams mentored by Lightning has increased to 9. They created an FTC Coordinator student position in 2015 due to the 200% increase of teams mentored over 3 years. The Coordinator organizes and manages the FTC mentorship, including special projects like starting an FTC Guidebook and Shadow Day. The Coordinator told me that during Shadow Day, 8th graders from Lightning’s FTC teams observe the team’s inner workings at a Saturday FRC build meeting to help progress through the FIRST program. Similarly, 862 assisted rookie team FRC6583 in Canton this year by inviting them to preseason, kickoff, and build meetings to understand how FRC teams run. To inspire younger students to join or start a FIRST team, since 2013, their graduating seniors demonstrate their robot to middle school and elementary students during Tour D’Robots. Another effort to support creation and management of FIRST teams is Mentor Camp, at which two 862 mentors were invited to present about engaging team volunteers.
While at the FTC event, I found out that Lightning also began supporting FLL Jr. programs in 2015. They have hosted and ran 3 total FLL Jr. Expo events with a total 38 teams participating in 5 activities. Each year, they develop new activities for the event such as cup tower building and driving a previous Lightning robot in addition to the Show-Me posters to reinforce essential life skills such as public speaking, organization, and teamwork. In addition to hosting and running events, they also understand the importance of assisting other teams’ events; in 2016, they had 169 volunteers at 27 FIRST events. FIRST in Michigan has recognized 862 as a reliable source of volunteer power. Lightning alumni highly value their experience, inspiring 25 to return to mentor 862 and other FIRST teams locally and across the country.
As I reflect on all of the things that Lightning does, I wonder: what else could they possibly do? Luckily, their student leaders answered that for me by energetically sharing their future goals as described by their detailed business plan. Using it as an organizational guide, they categorize their future goals into four sections with measurable results: People, Knowledge, Operations, and Outreach. For example, in People: increase student membership by 15% while maintaining a 3:1 student/mentor ratio. In Outreach: increase the number of FTC teams that they mentor to 15, and expand their social media presence to 5,000 followers. These goals are revisited yearly using their Lessons Learned analysis to improve team processes and outreach events.
Through my years of researching, I have deduced this: Lightning Robotics plays a major role in inspiring STEM interest in their surrounding community. They volunteer wherever and whenever they can. They develop long-term partnerships with sponsors and find ways to give back through demos, outreach events, and running FIRST competitions. Their sustainable program enables them to teach essential life skills to the next generation by mentoring and supporting FTC teams as they progress into FRC.[/su_expand]