My Life as a FIRST Robotics Mentor

Kevin Gingerich

March 25, 2014

4 Min Read
My Life as a FIRST Robotics Mentor

In the fall of 2013, the Bosch Rexroth location where I work in Charlotte, N.C., helped secure a Bosch Community Fund grant to sponsor a local FIRST robotics team at nearby Olympic High School. I'd seen FIRST teams in action before, but had never been closely involved. As a marketing professional, I assumed that FIRST team mentorship was a matter for engineers, designers, and the mechanically inclined.

That was clearly a mistaken assumption. Starting a rookie FIRST team is like starting a new business. Not only do they need a robot, they need a team identity and every mechanism possible for communicating that identity, including a logo, a website, social media channels, flyers, t-shirts, and buttons -- not to mention branding for the robot, including the pit area at competitions. So yes, marketing has a role, and when I went to my first few meetings, it was, well, mildly overwhelming.

Of course, as a mentor, it wasn't up to me to do all of this work, but rather to provide guidance to the marketing sub-team. And fortunately, we have a great team. The team had an identity established, T-Rex (a combination of Olympic High Trojans and Rexroth), even before our first mentor meeting. They had begun working up a logo, and also had preliminary pit designs and even a foreboding, dinosaury musical theme. We were off and running.

The next step was fundraising. Even though the team had a significant grant from the Bosch Community Fund, participating in FIRST costs money: Not just the event participation fees, but also travel and food costs for the students, mentors, and teachers; the various marketing materials described above (the team distributed nearly 2,000 buttons at their first FIRST event); the trailer to transport the robot; and more. Because of this, fundraising is probably the most significant challenge for any FIRST team, so be prepared to go to car washes, buy chocolate-covered pretzels, and to ask your family and friends to do so, too.

It's a lot of work, and a big time commitment. And then your team goes to its first competition. In our case, that was the Palmetto Regional in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Because of a tradeshow the following week, I was unable to attend in person, so I spent the weekend streaming video feeds, Google-searching results, checking standings -- my family started to worry about me a little.

Happily, I can report that Team T-Rex experienced what can only be described as the Miracle at Myrtle Beach. After a tough qualifying round, Team T-Rex #4935 was very concerned that it wouldn't be chosen for the finals. (The top eight teams each select two alliance partners.) Each of the top teams picked their first alliance partner -- no T-Rex. And then magic: the top-ranked team (#3824) selected T-Rex as its second alliance partner with the final pick of the day! The resulting red alliance (#3824, the RoHAWKtics from Knoxville, Tenn.; #1261, the RoboLions from Suwanee, Ga.; and T-Rex) went on to win the tournament, and each team will now be going to the FIRST Nationals in St. Louis at the end of April.

As I write this, T-Rex is on its way to the North Carolina Regionals, and this time, I won't miss out. When you experience the energy of FIRST through the students you're mentoring, you discover that it's one of the more fun things you can do with your spare time. I encourage you to find a team and help out. You'll discover that the students who participate are first-rate, dedicated, responsible, and creative. And if you're already involved with a FIRST team, thank you.

Kevin Gingerich, one of 12 proud Rexroth mentors of Team T-Rex #4935 from Olympic High, is responsible for Communications and Electronic Marketing at Bosch Rexroth, and has worked for the Bosch organization in various marketing and communications functions for 23 years. He has authored articles on lean manufacturing, social media, linear motion, and assembly technologies, and has served in the past on the Marketing Committee of the Robotics Industry Association. This is Kevin's first experience helping to mentor a FIRST Robotics team.

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