We hear a lot about Cinderella stories this time of year. With the Final Four and the Master’s golf tournament coming to a close, we’re all familiar with underdogs who rise up against all odds and win championships. But Cinderella stories don’t only happen in sports.
This week (April 23-26), the 2014 FIRST World Championships (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) will take place in St. Louis. This annual robotics competition is the culmination of months of tireless work and dedication from students who will become tomorrow’s engineers and scientists and will tackle some of the world’s most significant engineering challenges. This past season, more than 350,000 students participated in extracurricular or in-classroom FIRST robotics programs, and given the tremendous growth and popularity of these programs, qualifying for the FIRST World Championships is no easy feat.
As a long-time supporter and Strategic Partner of FIRST, National Instruments (NI) has seen first-hand the importance of robotics outreach programs that inspire students to pursue degrees and careers in engineering, technology, and the sciences. Not only do we support these programs by providing technology and funds, our employees worldwide dedicate their time to mentoring robotics teams of all ages and skill levels in our communities.
This season, I was particularly inspired by one of the teams NI supports, a true Cinderella story. Team 4847 consists of a group of dedicated students from Connally High School, a Title I school in Austin, Texas, where more than 50% of the students are at risk of not graduating. In just five years, what started as a rookie team with few members, limited budget, and no parts, has grown into one of the largest and most successful robotics programs in Central Texas.
This season, Team 4847 placed second in a regional competition where 72 teams from 11 different states competed in hopes of qualifying for the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis. With limited budget for extracurricular activities and a fairly new robotics program, how did these underdogs fight their way to the top of the ranks?
A major reason Team 4847 became successful was simply by learning from previous mistakes. Real-world engineers and scientists fail numerous times before coming up with the next big idea or deploying complex systems. That’s why it’s important to give students interactive, hands-on learning experiences to help them effectively solve problems and better grasp math and science concepts.
Last season, Team 4847 placed second to last in a regional competition, but they analyzed what worked well on their previous robot and identified areas for improvement. This year, the team focused on improving their former designs through multiple iterations and building upon past mistakes, which resulted in a considerably improved robot that qualified them for the 2014 World Championships.
Teamwork was also essential to this group’s success. Every team member played a crucial role, each dedicating countless nights and weekends to designing, building, and improving this year's robot. In addition, it’s important that teachers, administrators, and team mentors see the value in these programs and commit their time to give advice, motivate, and help these students succeed. Several NI employees have worked with Connally High School since the beginning, and it’s been extremely rewarding to see their team flourish. We’re tremendously proud of this school that succeeded in not just building robots, but in building an entire robotics program that continues to grow and thrive.
Every day, we see our customers overcome some of society’s toughest challenges and accomplish amazing things using our technology. It’s inspiring to see that the next generation of engineers and scientists is doing the same thing.
— Ray Almgren is Vice President of Marketing at National Instruments.