I got involved with FIRST programs in 2012 when I joined the Queens Vocational High School’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team. I joined during my freshman year (to what is still one of my favorite game themes, Rebound Rumble). I was fortunate enough to be on that team for four years, experiencing much growth and success. After the four years on my school’s team, I was introduced to the greater world of FIRST though volunteering, and I haven’t stopped since. I’m currently a mentor for my high school FRC team and a FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team that I initiated at the school I currently teach at. Additionally, I have been a Judge than Head Judge for FLL and Field Technical Advisor for FTC for the past four years. My involvement with all the FIRST programs have heavily impacted the person I have become today.
Having been a mentor for five years, I’ve seen a lot of incredible things that my students have crafted. There are two pivotal moments that always stand out whenever I think about some of my favorite moments. The first pivotal moment was during my first year as mentor. I saw myself as an equal with the students and considered them close friends. During that year, we had gone through the entire competition series without winning any qualifying awards and thought that was it for us, we weren’t going to championship. At the very end of the regional, our team won the Chairman’s Award, and we were in -- we were going to the Championships! As Judges would begin voicing the award statements, our team always stayed paranoid as many of the statements could be applied to us, but it never was. However, during that moment, it was us. When they announced our team won and began playing our Chairman’s video, our team froze and it was then that it sunk in, we won the Chairman’s award for the first time in our teams history.
The second pivotal moment is a more recent memory, dating back to the FTC Qualifiers in November 2019. As we were moving through the qualifying tournaments, we were progressing well, but we weren’t close to the ranks of the top tier teams. While we learned many lessons throughout the tournaments, these events helped develop our ideas on how to improve to qualify for the Super Qualifiers. During that specific event in November, we were packing up to leave when the Master of Ceremonies began announcing the teams advancing to the next level. My team hadn’t noticed that we were the last team to be called to qualify for advancement, and they were still upset that we did not qualify. As I waned over to my students to gauge how they were feeling, I slipped in that we better be ready to compete against the top tier teams, because we qualified! Seeing their joy explode on their faces, made all the late nights, stressful situations and the fights to maintain the team thoroughly worth it.
The best advice I received from my FIRST team was to fail often. In the world of STEAM, it is essential to reiterate on everything that we do. When I was a student on my FRC team, our mentors always expected excellence from us, and sometimes that required iterating or fixing a task fifteen or even twenty times. The mentors and team members were always available to offer feedback on what could be improved, but most importantly, when something didn’t work, we reiterated. Restarting was often easier than editing, and having multiple iterations allowed our team to get out the“not so good ideas’ which made room for better ones.
The most challenging aspects of mentoring have been time management. Over the past few years, I have been involved as a dedicated mentor for more than one robotics team, while also wearing the hat of a full-time educator, a volunteer at FIRST events as an FTA and Judge Advisor, while going back to school as a full-time student. As my responsibilities expand, my most challenging aspect remains to spend more time with my students. While I still don’t have the ideal answer of how perfectly balance in harmony, I am always looking for ways to continue to stay involved with the FIRST community, because the FIRST family is what has molded me into the person I am today.