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Mentoring robotics and the FIRST robotics competition

General mentoring
READING TIME 4 MINS

It’s no secret that the future of the workforce is changing with the rise of Industry 4.0 and technical advancements in robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and more. Businesses in nearly every industry will need to invest in new technologies to remain competitive, requiring highly skilled engineers, researchers, developers and experts to fill new, innovative positions.

It’s no secret that the future of the workforce is changing with the rise of Industry 4.0 and technical advancements in robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and more. Businesses in nearly every industry will need to invest in new technologies to remain competitive, requiring highly skilled engineers, researchers, developers and experts to fill new, innovative positions.

Basic skills and traditional education may soon not be enough to foster the abilities that future workers will need to succeed. This is why it is now more important than ever to guide young students in exploring the field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and help them build vital skills in creative problem solving and critical thinking.

FIRST LEGO League

Far too often in traditional schooling, children gradually lose interest in science and technology and don’t consider higher learning or future careers in STEM fields. Fortunately in recent years, afterschool programs have popped up across many countries that provide engaging activities and personalized learning for children to explore and develop skills in engineering and technology. These programs offer a great opportunity for today’s industry professionals to share their knowledge and experience through mentorship.

I became involved with FIRST and its competitions in 2006, and saw it as a great way to use my love of robotics to engage and educate children. Founded in 1998, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a program developed to inspire students with a passion for engineering and technology. FIRST holds a series of competitions throughout the year, including the FIRST LEGO League (FLL), in which teams of children aged 9 to 14 develop an intelligent Lego invention from design to construction and programming and then take their creation to a sports-like competition.

Each team has an adult coach for guidance. In addition to creating an effective robot, teams are presented a real-world problem to research and solve with their creation. These issues can range from food safety, recycling, energy sources and more, and challenge the children to apply STEM skills while thinking creatively. These competitions also teach team-building, problem solving and presentation skills that will be applicable beyond the competition in the real world. The FIRST Lego League has been a great success, now with over 32,000 teams participating across 88 different countries.

MakeShift robotics

While FLL and other similar programs are a great way to get younger children interested in science and math, we also need to encourage kids to stay involved as they get older. In high school, young adults begin to think about their future, and they should be encouraged to pursue fields like engineering as a viable and rewarding career path.

My FLL students graduating from elementary school and looking to continue their FIRST experience inspired me to found and become a lead mentor for MakeShift Robotics, a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team. FRC is a program designed to encourage high school students aged 14 to 18 to uncover their interest and aptitude for the many skills involved with creating a robot including design, fabrication, wiring, and programming. MakeShift students gain hands-on experience by participating in annual robotics competitions. Mentored by technology and engineering professionals from industry, student members participate in real-world engineering challenges to learn how to become critical thinkers, problem-solvers and makers instead of consumers.

The team competes each year in FRC tournaments that combine sports and smarts into one exciting challenge for students around the world. With the mentors’ guidance and equipped with limited resources, students must raise funds, design a team brand, and build and program a refrigerator-sized robot. These robots then compete in varsity-sport-like games at regional competitions and have the chance to advance to the FIRST World Championships. The competition helps students hone both technical and non-technical skills while exploring real-world applications for STEM.

In addition, our team members participate in activities such as educational workshops at local schools and libraries to build community interest. We’ve also initiated programs to encourage participation from those that are often underrepresented in the science and technology workforce, including our “Girls Are Brilliant” campaign that promotes STEM fields as a career path for young women.

Through MakeShift’s efforts, we believe our students will not only enjoy applying the theories they learn in math class, but also realize the great opportunities available to them for future careers. 100% of MakeShift graduates have pursued post-secondary education, and 97% have pursued careers in STEM. The program has inspired its mentors as well. In fact, one of Cimcorp’s most recent hires volunteered with MakeShift while studying at McMaster University and now works full time here at Cimcorp as a Junior Electrical Designer.

Cimcorp makes a difference

As a company, Cimcorp is excited to play a part in educating and inspiring our youth. We strongly believe that our current engineers need to share the gift of knowledge in robotics and engineering with the workforce of the future. Over the past six years, we have been a key sponsor of MakeShift and Cimcorp Oy is also now a proud sponsor of the FIRST Lego League. As our students, mentors and sponsors continue to work together, we can build a strong community that teaches children the value of STEM to their own futures and to the world as a whole.

Learn more about MakeShift. For more information about FIRST and its competitions.

Author Matt Alderson

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