News and Views from Dave Wilson

Tag: mentor

First Robotics and Inspiration

by on Mar.15, 2011, under Photography

I think it’s pretty fair to assume that most readers of this blog can list a line of relatives, teachers, mentors, pastors, coaches and others who guided and inspired us, ultimately leading us into our careers as engineers, scientists, technologists, administrators, salespeople, marketers, designers, artists and any number of other jobs.

As a child growing up in the 70s and going through college in the 80s, I remember being in awe of the engineers and astronauts at NASA during the final years of the Apollo program and throughout the development and launch of the Space Shuttle. As a Brit, though, with little prospect of working for the US space agency, local technologists soon joined the list – Sir Clive Sinclair and the engineers at Sinclair Research who developed home computers that I could actually afford and later the team at Acorn Micro who laid the foundations of the company that is a household name today and whose microprocessors are at the heart of every TI Stellaris MCU – ARM. Closer to home, my High School science and mathematics teachers showed me the beauty and, despite society’s attempts to suggest otherwise, fun of physics, chemistry, geometry, trigonometry and calculus.

So why a post about inspiration today? I’ve just returned from a trip to the FIRST Robotics Competition New York City Regional where I was supporting TI’s Jaguar motor speed controllers. This event pitted teams from as far afield as Hawaii, Brazil and the UK against one another in a competition to design and build a robot intended to collect and place various inflatable game pieces. You can read more about this year’s game here but the most important thing to realize about FRC and the FIRST organization in general is that robots are merely a catalyst. The real name of the game is inspiration – getting the next generation passionate about science and technology and steering them towards the careers which will develop tomorrow’s technologies and drive tomorrow’s economy.

Each team requires many skills to complete the game challenge. In addition to the obvious hardware and software tasks, experts in sales, marketing and design are needed for publicity and fundraising, and administration skills are in great demand when trying to arrange transport and accommodation for teams of up to 40 people who may have to travel across the state, across the country or even across the ocean to attend their chosen FRC event. For each of these activities, the team relies on an army of mentors to advise and assist. Teachers, parents and professionals give up a significant portion of their free time to help team members come to grips with the new skills required and, at the same time, teach them a real-world lesson in how to break down and handle a complex task in a team setting. This is the kind of experience that schools are, frankly, just not set up to provide and it’s also exactly the kind of experience that gives kids who take part in FIRST programs an advantage in the job market.

As professionals ourselves, FIRST and programs like it offer us outstanding opportunities to give back to the community, inspiring tomorrow’s professionals and helping prepare them to follow in our footsteps. Remember, too, that inspiration goes both ways – the energy, enthusiasm and creativity of the kids on the team definitely revitalizes the mentors too. If you have some time on your hands and a desire to get involved in something that really makes a difference in the lives of young people, take a look at FIRST and see how you can fit in to help a truly inspirational organization.

This post originally appeared in Texas Instruments’ “TI Live @” blog and has since been republished in Electronic Component News.

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