The Stakeholders of Your Team
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
You have made the decision to embark upon a fantastic journey. Congratulations!
The fall is when, as a rookie, you begin to organize your team and prepare for your first robot build season. There is much to do. To be as successful as possible your first time out, it is essential that you prepare.
Your team and organization can be thought of as a small company. For teams (and companies) to survive, it is important to ensure each of your major stakeholders is satisfied. To help you start on this path, the MOEmentum: Preseason segment is constructed to help you focus on each of your stakeholders:
Students should not need to know how to build a robot. This learning and discovery is one of the joys of participating in FIRST. Ensuring you have students dedicated to sticking with the program is essential.
One way to explain the commitment students need to have is to compare this program to a sports team or other school programs, like the school band. More than likely, a FIRST robotics program is new to your school. By using similar programs as a comparison might help everyone understand the time commitment better.
Up front, it is important for the team leadership to communicate to students of what the expectations are for student (and adult) members of the team. By doing this early and clearly, you will minimize problems later.
Gauge the appropriate number of students by the number of professional mentors you have. It is difficult if you have more than a five to one ratio of students to mentors. List all of the activities you need and want to do as a rookie team and this will help you determine how many students would be appropriate. There is no set number, but somewhere between 10-20 students your first year might be a target.
TIP The number of students is not nearly as important of the commitment of the students you have. If you have five students who will weather the storm no matter what, your team might be in better shape than a team of 20 students who show up when they feel like it.
Hopefully, part of your decision to start a FIRST team was based on some adult mentors committing to lead the project. Mentors get involved with FIRST teams in all different ways (some even recruited during the six-week robot build). The earlier you can identify a core group of mentors, the better.
BACKGROUND / QUALIFICATIONS
Like the qualifications for the student members, commitment to the program is the number one criterion. If you can snag mentors, who have been previously associated with another FIRST team, you will have a much easier sell. If not, look for mentors who have some experience in any of the following areas: robotics, mechanical engineering, machining, electrical engineering, electronics/circuitry, computer programming, construction, leadership, education, teaching, computer aided design / manufacturing, etc.
TIP It is likely that the mentors will not have experience building robots. Not to worry! There are many resources throughout the FIRST community to assist you.
TIP Teacher mentors are invaluable to this program. Many engineers may know a bit about how to build robots, but not much about teaching high school students. Teachers can complement technical professionals and vice-versa.
TIP Ensure you have mentors you can trust around teenage children. While it is a taboo topic that most of us would rather not discuss, the team leaders need to do the best they can to ensure that they can feel comfortable with the mentors interacting with students in many different venues at different times of the day.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR MENTORS
It is ideal for your mentors to come from your local area. You will meet many times. Having mentors who do not have to travel far greatly helps their retention.
Look in your school, local area companies (engineering centers, machine shops, construction, electrical contractors, lumberyards, etc.).
TIP Tell everyone you can about your need, including parents of team members. Parents are one of the best sources of mentors; they obviously have a personal reason for the program to be successful. Even if the parent cannot be a mentor, many times they have networks that you can connect into where mentors can be found.
THE MENTOR – SUPPLIES CONNECTION
Another way to identify places to look for mentors is to determine what facilities, equipment, supplies, tools you will need and start your search there. The best of all worlds is if you have mentors who have access to the equipment you need to make your robot. Look at hardware stores, rental spaces, department stores, etc.
Most FIRST teams are affiliated with only one or two schools, have teachers filling the role of one of the team leaders, meet at the school, and use the school’s tool and facilities in support of the team. Because of this, it is critical that your team has the school’s support of your program.
TIP Find a champion who is has significant respect in your school and get their support. This may be your principal, school superintendent, or a science or math chairperson. Having a champion will help you throughout the program.
Your school can provide many resources if your team is lucky. Some of these include a place to work, tools and machining equipment, a place to store materials and supplies, funding, and possibly even human resources.
Understand the arrangement you will have with the school for having students working on site (if this is the case). Since this may be unlike other school programs due to some of the hours involved, you need to follow school rules or develop specific rules in this area.
TIP If you live in an area where schools may be closed due to bad weather (snow, hurricanes, etc.), know what your options are if this happens.
GETTING BILLS PAID THROUGH THE SCHOOL
Many teams’ accounts are handled as a school organization. This means that when bills are paid, a school check needs to be cut. Understand this process at your school and how long it takes. During the build season, you may need a part or piece of equipment right away. How do you handle this given the school process?
SCHOOL RULES ON TEAM TRAVEL
Understand up front what rules and regulations your school has regarding team travel. Knowing this up front will help you prepare.
Your school may require your team to provide regular updates on your progress. This may mean presenting to the school board or having informal meetings with the school principal. Understand what this process will be and be prepared for it. The best way to sustain or grow a program is to have good results and a means to communicate those results to others, who can help support it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
If your team is lucky enough, in addition to having committed students, you will also draw into your team a number of committed parents. Parents committed to helping your team are like gold and will make the job of the team leaders much easier.
OPEN HOUSE FOR PARENTS / FAMILIES
Take time to get the word out about the program and your resource needs to parents. The best way to do this is to hold an open house sometime in the fall. Describe the program, obtain videos of previous year’s competition (available through FIRST), and, if you can, have members of veteran FIRST teams come in as guest speakers. They may even be able to bring their robot.
TIP When you interact with parents through an open house, be sure to obtain parent contact information (e-mail and phone). Then you will be able to create a parent e-mail distribution list, which you can use to communicate team information and ask for help when you need it.
TIP Be sure to inform parents that, last season, FIRST students were eligible for more than $8 million in scholarships to colleges and universities.
TEAM ROLES FOR PARENTS
First, ask the question if the parents have any technical skills. Who knows, you might find the best robot build mentor via your parents? Also, consider parents who can do the following for your team: keep attendance, keep track of finances, handle clerical tasks, build parts of the playing field, take photos or video during the season, lead fundraising efforts, supply meals for the team on certain dates, etc.
TIP Similar to searching for mentors, work to find parent volunteers you are comfortable with around teenage children. While the parents may not spend one-on-one time with student team members as mentors would, you want to minimize any problems in this area.
WHY YOU NEED THEM
FIRST is a unique and proven program, but it is also an expensive to get started. To simply participate will cost your team $8,000-$10,000. Sponsorship is essential.
TIP As a rookie team, look into the NASA grants which are awarded annually. Keep in mind that if you should be awarded one of these grants, you will need to attend one of the NASA-sponsored regional competitions.
WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR YOU
Sponsors can donate the money your team needs to compete effectively. Sponsors can also do much more. They can supply tools, equipment, facilities, food, services (printing, copying, machining, etc.), and can be true partners for your team. Identify a list of current and potential sponsors and assign some adults to contact them to explain the program and see how they can assist you.
TIP This is a perfect task to have parents assist you.
TIP Use any and all FIRST-created materials to engage sponsors. Videotapes, DVDs, printed brochures are available. Look in the FIRST team resources section of the FIRST website.
WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THEM
While some sponsors may help you out of the goodness of their hearts, they are also looking for how support of your team can help them. Think about how sponsors can benefit and communicate this in presentations to sponsors.
Some areas include: demonstrated commitment to technology education and the technology workforce of the future, exposure through the team via their name on banners, team shirts, and the robot, and recognition that they are improving education in their local community.
FIRST is a terrific organization, but it is important to realize that the actual official organization is comprised of relatively few full-time FIRST employees and lots and lots of passionate volunteers. If your team has a problem or issue, FIRST will address it. Please be patient as demand for information / assistance is probably high and supply of full-time people at FIRST is probably low.
For more information, check the What is FIRST? page or use the FIRST web site to try to answer information-based questions. If you have specific issues / questions, then contact the FIRST customer service representatives.
HOW YOU CAN HELP FIRST
As a rookie team, you can best help FIRST by reading all available information about due dates, costs, registration procedures, competition details, etc. This information is readily available via the FIRST web site [www.usfirst.org].
The pressure of the robot build season and the amount of information your team will need to process over the next seven to eight months may cause frustration at times (in fact, we are almost sure it will). FIRST has created a unique opportunity and challenge for us all. During the upcoming season, some robot rules may change. Some playing field component dimensions may change. Information may not come to us exactly when we would like it. Referee calls may go against our team. FIRST is an organization of human beings. Human beings are not perfect. Provide feedback for improvement in a professional manner, and it will be consider. The end result is worth it.
FIRST COMMUNITY – CHIEF DELPHI
One of the best sources of quick information is the FIRST Community. This community consists of over 1000 FIRST Robotics teams in multiple countries. Teams have almost constant contact through resources such as the Chief Delphi website, operated by Team 47, Chief Delphi. Words cannot describe the openness and helpfulness of the Chief Delphi community. If you have a question, odds are you can obtain a number of public and/or personal responses in minutes via the Chief Delphi site. Use it!
TIP Realize that the Chief Delphi site is populated with many FIRSTers, so of whom are very well connected with FIRST HQ. However, information coming from the Chief Delphi site is not the “official” FIRST response. If an official FIRST response is what you need, contact FIRST directly.
FIRST COMMUNITY – OTHER FIRST TEAMS
Find out if you have any veteran teams local to your area. Make contact if you have not already. Utilize these teams to answer your questions or even be mentors for your team. You can always use more friends in FIRST, and most teams are more than willing to help.