Friday, July 13, 2007

News NYC/NJ FIRST - July 2007

July 2007 - Vol 1, Issue 3
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The 2007 FIRST season was a tremendous success for New York City / New Jersey FIRST -- the move to the Javits Center, a joint resolution honoring FIRST passed by the New Jersey Legislature, more than 190 FLL teams registered in New York City, the inauguration of the FIRST Vex Challenge in New Jersey, Governor Spitzer visits the NYC FIRST Robotics Competition, more than $1.2 million raised in support of FIRST activities across the metro region. Yes - a pretty good year. Thanks to all the wonderful people who made it possible.

To download a copy of our annual report Click here.

Please let us know what you think.

Help us do even better next year. Let us know how you think we can improve the FIRST experience for students and volunteers. Give us your ideas for how we can get more students involved in the FIRST celebration of young men and women working smart in science and technology.

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Thank you for being a FIRST Champion.
As an organization, FIRST doesn't get directly involved in trying to change what is taught in schools. But that doesn't mean that Dean Kamen's vision doesn't include having schools and communities place much greater emphasis on science and technology education. Dean's strategy as he will tell you is, "create demand among kids and the rest follows." In other words, get students excited about technology, communities will figure out how they channel all the energy and interest. Mount Olive High School in New Jersey, which has been involved in FIRST since 1996, is one example of what can happen.

Dina Agrapides, senior engineer at Cordis Corp., a Johnson & Johnson company, recently "retired" from her position as chairperson of the New Jersey FIRST Robotics Planning Committee after four years of being responsible for planning and executing one of the nation's two oldest regional FIRST events.

"Dina is one of those 'behind the scenes" people who always gets the job done," commented Randy Schaeffer, FIRST regional director. "She's an effective leader and great problem-solver."

At Sovereign Bank Arena, Dina can be found scrambling from one area of the arena to another in a t-shirt marked "Crew," and a headset throw which dozens of other volunteers are constantly talking in her ear. It seems sometimes like everyone is pulling her in a different direction. Dina is energized by her strong desire to make sure that the overall experience of the NJ Regional is something that the kids can come away from and love.

"Gracious Professionalism" - talk to any FIRST fanatic for more than five minutes and there is no doubt it will be part of the conversation. So what is it? What is this FIRST mantra, coined by FIRST guru Woodie Flowers, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT? Maybe the best way to explain it is to give an example.

Back on Wednesday, May 16th as Allentown High School's Redbird FIRST Robotics Team (Team #1807) was preparing for that Saturday's Monty Madness FIRST Scrimmage, their robot's pivot arm gave out. New parts were needed to make the repair, yet there were only hours in which to get the job done and the parts weren't readily available from vendors. A lot was at stake. The team was planning on using the Monty Madness Scrimmage as a way to give its new members real experience on the playing field as part of its program to get ready for 2008. The team's development strategy was about to go up in smoke.

For most high school students summer means packing away a dozen old notebooks and "vegging" out by the pool or in front of the nearest video game console. But for the members of FIRST Robotics Team #25, the Raider Robotix at North Brunswick High School, summer means taking on the role of teacher and helping younger kids get hooked on FIRST. Raider Robotix, is again hosting a Summer Robotics Camp for students entering grades 6-9. The three-week program is being run by sophomore Morgan Gillespie.

"The kids really enjoy camp because its more on a peer-to-peer basis where the younger kids aren't afraid to ask us questions, or talk to us about things other than the task at hand," says Kristian Calhoun, a member of Raider Robotix's drive team. This will be Kris's second year as a part of the Robotics Camp. Kris adds that "you see the campers enjoying themselves, and learning about robotics and science at the same time. They look up to us as role models, but also as friends."

The goal of FIRST is to inspire young men and women to pursue further studies and careers in science and technology and to help them prepare to compete in the technologically-driven global economy.

FIRST's success in achieving its goal was documented in a study funded by the Ford Foundation and completed by Brandeis University in 2005. The study, entitled More than Robots: An Evaluation of the FIRST Robotics Competition-Participant and Institutional Impacts, provides evidence that participating in FIRST Robotics positively impacts the post-secondary education and career plans of high school graduates.

The study involved 300 FIRST Robotics Competition participants from schools in New York City and the Detroit area, and found that when FIRST students were compared to other high school graduates with similar math and science preparation, FIRST students:
  • Went on to college at higher rate (89% vs. 65%) than recent high school graduates;
  • Were nearly twice as likely to major in science or engineering (55% vs. 28%);
  • Were more than three times as likely to major specifically in engineering (41% vs. 13%);
  • Were significantly more likely to aspire to a post-graduate degree (77% vs. 63%);
  • Were more than twice as likely to expect to have a science or technology-related career (45% vs. 20%); and
  • Were more than twice as likely to have done community service in the past year (71% vs. 30%)

Every once in a while we get a letter from a student or a parent telling us how participating in FIRST has made a difference in the lives of young people. Below is one we recently received from the father of a FIRST team member in New York City. Letters like this go along way toward reminding us why our efforts are important.

My son is lucky, but I am even luckier. My son attended a high school that doesn't have a robotics team. He decided he needed to change schools and did. Even more luckily, he and a friend were taken in by a FIRST robotics team run by an inimitable teacher-coach, whose home base is a high school in the Bronx, New York, which is in the poorest Congressional district in the country.

"Why are we involved?" asks Tom Marotta somewhat rhetorically. "Because we need highly motivated and highly skilled people to deal with the challenges the nation is confronting," he goes on to explain.

Tom Marotta is CEO of Marotta Controls Inc., based in Boonton, NJ, which for the past six years has been sponsoring and mentoring FIRST Robotics Team #637 based at Montville High School in Montville, NJ.

Each summer, two lucky rising juniors and/or seniors are selected from among team members to participate in a six-week summer internship at Marotta Controls' facility in Boonton. Marotta explains that for the FIRST three weeks the students get to work in the firm's engineering department followed by three weeks working in assembly and testing. "That way students get to see the whole engineering process - they learn how innovation is done in a company like ours."

Every once in a while we need to remind ourselves that technology is not just about creating better consumer products, getting better gas mileage from SUVs, or figuring out how to get the latest music downloaded to a cell phone. A good way to do this would be to visit "Design for the Other 90%", now on exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum through September 23rd.

Quoting from the exhibit's website:

Designers, engineers, students and professors, architects, and social entrepreneurs from all over the globe are devising cost-effective ways to increase access to food and water, energy, education, healthcare, revenue-generating activities, and affordable transportation for those who most need them. And an increasing number of initiatives are providing solutions for underserved populations in developed countries such as the United States.

Christian Garcia, a member of the Brooklyn Tech team, recently won Third Place in the Autodesk Inventor Design Competition. Christian created a rendering of a robot for the 2007 FIRST Robotics competition.

Submissions were judged on their use of Inventor capabilities, innovation, and aesthetic appeal. Students were competing for prizes from HP, AWD, and 3Dconnexion.

Christian exemplifies the best of what New York City has to offer. He chose to attend Brooklyn Tech because he wanted to take engineering classes even though it meant commuting more than an hour from his home in Washington Heights.

After a year of competing in the FIRST LEGO League, Christian dedicated himself to the FIRST Robotics Competition. Christian says, "FIRST gave me the opportunity to meet great people that helped me develop character." In addition, Christian is thankful because he got to be a leader within the team and to try new things.

This summer he is headed to the University of Central Florida where he will major in Aerospace Engineering. Congratulations Christian! We're proud of you.

Back in high school, Sabrina Varanelli was the founder of her FIRST Robotics team at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, NJ. Having just completed her freshman year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Sabrina is employed as a summer intern by BAE Systems in Wayne NJ.

Sabrina's FIRST team (a tournament winner at both New York City and New Jersey in 2007) is sponsored by BAE Systems and mentored by employees at the company's Electronics & Integrated Solutions Network System's facility in Wayne. BAE Systems is also a major sponsor of the FIRST Robotics Competition held in Manchester, NH.

For more information, please contact:

New Jersey Institute of Technology
Fenster Hall, Room 361
Newark, NJ 071021

E-mail -
Phone - (973) 596-3234


New York City / New Jersey FIRST

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