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Investing in Our Future by Mentoring Our Future

The world’s biggest problems need strong STEM educated women and men to solve them.

So how can we develop our next generation of problem solvers?

Personally, I believe organizations like FIRST Robotics are the best solution to truly create the problem solvers of the future. FIRST engages young girls and boys to work collaboratively to solve problems. Their robotics programs begin in grade school with Legos, up through high school where students build and program 100+ pound robots. But it’s more than just robots.

“I don’t use kids to build robots. I use robots to build kids.”
– Dean Kamen,
Founder of FIRST Robotics

FIRST is a global program, with 550,000+ students in over 100 countries. FIRST unites students of all cultural backgrounds on the laws of physics, math, and science. It provides a playing field where they can work together, teach other, and come to a solution based on these scientific principles.

Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, and I

What is FIRST?

FIRST Robotics, where FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen. Dean has held many titles over the years including serial inventor, owner of 440 patents, inventor of the Segway, inventor of Slingshot, inventor of the I-Bot, and founder of DEKA Research & Development. Dean connected with Dr. Woodie Flowers (MIT emeritus professor) because he saw a great gap in the supply of STEM educated students with the demand of these positions in the coming future. He also saw the US schools “overly” celebrating athletics and NOT celebrating academics. So, he devised an organization where “all participants can turn pro” and FIRST Robotics was born.

My Involvement with FIRST – “A Family Affair”

I became engaged with FIRST in 2001 when my then 9-year old came home from school and said we needed to start a FIRST Robotics team… with Legos. I became the lead mentor and my long term FIRST relationship began. My wife also became involved, and our 3 sons all became very engaged with FIRST and ALL say their experience with FIRST was a critical part of their choice to become engineers:

  • Rob: Now works as an engineer at Ford Motor Company and sits on Ford’s FIRST board of directors. He also recruits additional Ford engineers to sponsor teams and mentor Detroit Public School students in FIRST programs.
  • Zach: Now an engineer at Milwaukee Tool who is working hard to build a FIRST community within his company. He mentored a rookie team this past year that made it to the Wisconsin state championships.
  • Joey: A sophomore college engineering student who participated on teams throughout middle and high school and mentored a team while in high school. He’s interning this summer at DEKA Research & Development.
  • Louisa: My wife has been a FIRST mentor for the past 12 years – starting multiple new teams during that time period and being the driving force behind our local K-8 school’s ambition to build out a Robotics/Technology Laboratory.

I joined Schneider Electric in 2015 and early on found a couple of our VERY passionate FIRST mentors. We realized that for Schneider to remain competitive in the talent market, we MUST be engaging these “future colleagues” at an earlier age.

The Knack team with their Inspire Award at the Wisconsin Championships

Companies Should Be Involved in STEM Organizations

I can think of many reasons why companies should be proactive in engaging young leaders to pursue an interest in STEM. From a business standpoint, an affiliation with FIRST strongly promotes our company brand (globally), generates strong awareness with students about Schneider Electric and our focus in the STEM fields, and draws us very close with key customers.

But the reason to be involved goes far beyond brand promotion. Schneider is committed to sustainability and carbon neutrality. We believe meaningful action is the only path to a sustainable world. Every day we’re reminded of the urgency of the climate crisis and inspired by those who are rising to meet the challenge head on. Limiting global temperature rise is essential if we are to avoid widespread, disastrous ecological problems.

And these massive global problems are why we need talented, smart, STEM educated women and men to help solve them.

Concrete, meaningful action is the only successful path to create a healthier world, and that is why programs like FIRST are so important. We need to educate these children, our future colleagues, to set them up for success, and inspire them to innovate, create, and build a more sustainable world.

The Knack poses with Dean Kamen at the Detroit World Championships in April 2019

Schneider Electric’s Involvement

When I joined Schneider, we began to search out other mentors to get involved with FIRST. When Schneider began officially sponsoring FIRST in 2016, we sponsored 16 teams. Over the years our monetary support and our number of sponsored teams have grown. In the 2018-2019 school year, we donated $150,000 to over 46 teams, a 64% increase over the prior year.

Here are just a few great stories of our teams:

  • In April of 2018 and 2019, multiple Schneider Electric sponsored teams competed in the Detroit and Houston FIRST Robotics World Championships. The FTC Team 9956 “The Knack” performed well at the Detroit Championships, winning the “mascot award” and advancing to the competition’s semi-final round. The team, which is focused on growing STEM awareness and education in Wisconsin had met with WI Governor Tony Evers earlier in the year advocating for increased STEM education funding in WI schools. At the Detroit Championships, the team was able to meet with Dean Kamen to update him on their efforts! Also, for the 2nd year in a row, The Knack built a robot that threw out a first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game this past June! (and of course, it was a perfect strike!)
  • The GONK Squad (#701), from North Kingstown, Rhode Island and ARC Thunder (#5273) from Andover, MA both advanced to the 2019 Worlds Competition in Detroit for the first time.
  • CRyptonite FRC Team (#624) competed at the FIRST World Championship (their fifth competition of the season) and after 10 incredibly hard-played qualification matches, came in 13 out of 67 teams in the Newton Division. They also won the “Automation Award sponsored by Ford” for programing, which acknowledges the team’s automation strategy is at the highest global levels. CRyptonite is also coordinating with local FLL teams, such as the Brainiac Maniacs, to host various free Robotics summer camps, such as an Introduction to FLL, Girls in STEM workshop and FLL Coach’s Tips & Tricks.
  • In Texas, The Brainiac Mainiacs team advanced to the 2018 FIRST Lego League World Championships and in 2019 they advanced to the Regional Championship for the 8th year in a row and were awarded the 3rd place Champion’s Award.
  • Big Bad Bob FRC Team (#319) celebrated their 20th anniversary year this season breaking several of their own records at the World Championships in Detroit. Out of the 68 teams on the Daly Field, BOB ranked the #1 seed in the Daly Subdivision with 9 Wins, 1 Loss and 0 Ties. Ranked #4 for placing the most cargo, ranked #6 for placing the most hatch panels and ranked #14 over all out of 408 teams at the world’s competition. Team 4970 presented BOB with a homemade metal trophy for the Best Cargo Robot. Team 1718 presented BOB with a 3D printed trophy for Ludicrous Speed. FIRST presented BOB with the Excellence in Engineering Award from the Daly/Archimedes divisions. The team presented 5 seniors with post-secondary education scholarships, participated in the Building Block Project, planted lilac bushes in the Alton, NH rotary, mentored 2 FLL teams, 3 FRC teams and 1 FTC team, built a local practice filed for all local FRC teams to utilize and they helped the local boys and girls scout troops gain their robotics merit badges.

I am proud that our Schneider Electric involvement continues to grow. My aspiration is to increase our total # of sponsored teams to 75 in the 2019/2020 season with an investment of $200,000+!

Schneider Electric Sponsored FIRST Robotics Teams at the Houston World Championship in April 2018

The Future of FIRST

Governor Evers and The Knack team

I believe strongly in FIRST which is why I have been so involved for the past 18 years. I believe it is one of the best organizations to a) educate and develop our future colleagues, b) highlight our company and the great work we are delivering as the US energy landscape dramatically changes and c) engage with our Schneider Electric mentors!

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