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Friday, February 28, 2014

Chairman's 2014 - Essay

"I think it's so cool that you can pick up the guitar and create something that didn't exist five minutes ago. You can write something that no one has ever heard before. You have music at your fingertips," vocalized Michelle Branch. This mentality has set the tempo of our team since 2009. We, FRC Team 3313 Mechatronics, strive not only to reach the stars, but also to take our place among them. Since the onset of our team, we have worked to build a future for our community, for our sponsors, and for our fellow FIRST teams. To our community, we are a group of high school students who build robots. To our sponsors, we are future innovators. To other teams, we are the crazy team willing to try anything. To our own team members and mentors, we are a family. The long nights of bonding through Rock Band have brought our team closer, creating a home outside of home. We are more than just a robotics team: we are a group of individuals who can cultivate the future of science and engineering into the fame and glory rock bands hold to this day.

FRC 3313 eagerly works to expand outreach in the community. When we had just begun, our robot was our main focus; ergo, not taking time to realize ways we could affect our community. Recently, we tackled the project of raising awareness within our community. Everyone knows high schools have a football team, but how many know there is a FIRST robotics team? We always explore new avenues to expose the community to our team.

Annually, we use clever ways to spread the voice of FIRST. For instance, we held the Bydlon Beard Off. This was an event at our high school for students and staff to donate towards styles of beards. The beard that raised the most money resulted in our head coach shaving his beard into mutton chops, while the school and local press watched. We also spread FIRST in our community by attending the annual career fair. Team members informed upcoming freshman about the new FTC classes being offered to them. These FTC classes will allow students to participate in robotics--even with an after school activity.

In our annual effort with the Homecoming parade, we had a float with our robot on it. Over five-hundred people saw our work. While we may be in the Homecoming Parade each year, it's noteworthy for two FRC 3313 members to be nominated for Homecoming King and Queen and even less predictable for those two robotics members to receive it. This year, Bryce Klang and Lacey Werman were awarded Homecoming King and Queen. This was a cherished moment for our team. This shows FIRST robotics has been accepted and admired within our school.

For the first time, our team presented at a city council meeting. The presentation went harmonically and we impressed the board. A few months later, we were invited to attend and present at the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Conference. At the conference, over one-hundred city council members from across the state of Minnesota attended. It held a daunting crowd, but also a grand experience. In the presentation before ours, a man described the difficulties of traveling to the Twin Cities for meetings. He explained how people from rural cities, like Alexandria, do not find the drive to be beneficial. Afterward, we gave our presentation and related the problem with ours--we often struggle to determine if an event in the Twin Cities is worthwhile. After finishing, we were thanked by an Alexandria city council member for a stunning show.

Other ways our team strives to build an enhanced community is by participating in volunteer work. For the past two years, we've partook in the Empty Bowls project to raise money for the hungry. As well for the first time, we volunteered at the local food shelf and spent hours sorting food and checking expiration dates. This allowed many of us to realize how fortunate we are and become more passionate about helping others. This passion to assist others has further enriched our community.

Just before bagging our robot at build season's end, our team annually gives a demonstration at a basketball halftime show. Our first year didn't go as planned, but we gained fresh experiences. Center-stage for our performance, we believed we could catch any ball thrown at us, but our robot hijacked the show with it's own choreographed dance. It acted self-aware, but in reality, its wireless connection was lagging. However, our spirits uplifted, we've worked to improve by using a network wire instead of a wireless transmitter. With a little bit of practice and planning, all the cords tend to untangle themselves, and we've been able to put on a dazzling show.

Now, drum roll please for our sponsors! For three years, our team has participated in bi-monthly meetings with the Packaging Machine Manufacturing Consortium (PMMC), which consists of Aagard, Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, Alexandria Technical and Community College, Douglas Machine, and Massman Automation Designs. These meetings allow students to build real-life skills and obtain an inside glimpse of the how companies collaborate. At meetings, we frequently spoke of our progress and the possibility of FTC and FLL teams in our community. Without asking, they granted us an additional $2000. As a result, Alexandria's first FTC team was formed, Team 7799 Autobotics, a middle school only team. High school students served as mentors to younger students. By helping the students, parents became more involved and we gained three engineering mentors for our FRC team.

During the 2013 season, our team gave a demonstration at Massman for the Tours of Manufacturing. After an amazing performance, we were granted the opportunity to give more demonstrations with Aagard and Donnelly. Afterward, the engineers gave us tours of the companies. While on the tours, they were shocked to discover the number of females who showed an interest in STEM and we revealed we have more females than males on our team. After the tours, students expressed a growing hunger for STEM careers.

Another event in which we worked closely with a sponsor was at the Awake the Lakes Ribfest, a community gathering held by Massman. They requested us as entertainment during the rib making contest. The kids attending had been eager to drive and shoot Frisbees from our robot. Seeing the enthusiasm from the youth is a worthwhile part of being on a FIRST team.

Each summer, we attend the Douglas Machine company picnic. At the picnic, we gave a short description about FIRST to employees and show off our robot: the employees are always impressed with our work. Many asked about our program and through this demonstration, we gained mentors to aid our team.

This coming year, we will be attending the Pack Expo in Chicago for a second time. This event is a packaging machine manufacturing showcase where 1,100 companies and over 200,000 people attend. Massman, a sponsor, pays for the entire trip. Our team takes a few students who convey an interest in STEM. We give presentations about FIRST throughout the day and worked with other FRC teams from across the country. Massman had been so impressed by our team the first time that they invited us back.

Working with FIRST teams is a must for FRC 3313. An average morning begins with students glancing at pixels of their digital clocks, questioning why they must wake before dawn on a Saturday. The answer is simple: we are from Alexandria, Minnesota--a rural team. Most FIRST events are held in the Twin Cities, at least two hours away. The students and mentors must get up at 4 A.M. and leave by 5 A.M. to arrive punctually. We try to attend many events to make every student's FIRST experience superb. Each year, we travel over 3,000 miles within the state for a mere 12 events.

At many events, we give presentations to aid fellow FIRST teams. Some events we have attended include the Minne-Regional and SPLASH training. From personal experience, we know this is valuable to other teams, and it helps the West Central teams to become part of the society the Twin Cities' teams have built. We've even worked towards building a West Central Alliance. Working with other teams is a great part of the FIRST program. We have even driven to a Duluth regional simply to watch and cheer on fellow teams.

In forming alliances, creating unified relationships has been our true rhythm. Last year, at the 10,000 Lakes Regional, we directly helped fifteen teams and were nominated for the Gracious Professionalism Award by four teams--and we graciously received it. One team, 2570, we assisted by rebuilding, rewiring, and recomposing the programming code on their robot. We stayed until the inspectors were urging us to leave at 8 P.M. It was terrific to be able to work with 2570 and develop stronger coopertition. We provided a helping hand, knowing they would be our competitors the next morning. Thus, we had the simple satisfaction we could make their regional exemplary.

For our final act, we will be composing more arrangements for our future. Over the next three years, Team 3313's head coach will be teaching FLL summer classes and FTC classes. We hope the FIRST classes will be a success and lead to a future FRC class. We will be hosting an off-season event in Alexandria this fall. A goal as a team will be to increase involvement in engineering and FIRST programs in rural Minnesota. Our team aspires to be able to work with other teams regularly.

FRC 3313 has the power to build, write, or create something that didn't exist moments ago. We never tell ourselves we can't do it, but rather, we know we must. We will show our community, our sponsors, and our fellow FIRST teams we are not only high school students, future employees, or some crazy team, but rather a group of individuals who can cultivate the future of science and engineering. As a team we will catch the spotlight and shine with the support of our community, sponsors, and fellow FIRST teams.

We can finally take our place among the stars.

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