I'm pleased to present a guest blog from FedEx, a FIRST Strategic Partner and Crown Supplier to FRC:
Scott Evans, FLL Engineer, and David Nelson from FedEx
My name is David Nelson and I’m a Packaging Project Engineer with FedEx TechConnect in Collierville, TN. In the FedEx Packaging Design and Development department, we not only perform package testing and packaging design services for our customers, but we also respond to customer service inquiries on how to create packaging for unique items.
When I joined FedEx back in the 1994, I had never heard of the FIRST organization. But one day I received a phone call from a team needing to ship a robot to competition. The caller wanted to get our recommendations on how to package their robot for shipping. Initially, I thought it was some small toy or science fair project. As the conversation progressed I quickly learned that my initial perception of the robot was way off base and there were some things about this shipment that set it apart from the more typical requests that we get. The robot weighed nearly 200 pounds, there were lead acid batteries included, as well as some spare parts and hardware. When I got off the phone, I told my co-workers of the unusual request and we all got a chuckle out the whole deal.
As the days and weeks went by, we received more calls all asking for the same guidance. When we did some further research as to why we were getting so many calls, we learned that FedEx was a major sponsor of FIRST, providing the shipping to various competition sites for the robots.
Now, fast forward to 2010, my daughter was 7 years old. One day some fellow dads and I were having dinner and the topic of FIRST came up. One of the fathers had read on the internet about a segment of FIRST called Jr. FLL. As we read and learned more about the organization, the Core Values and its mission and vision we thought that this could be a fun way of exposing our girls to STEM. At this point I should mention that all 4 families have no boys. There is a total of 6 girls, 4 of whom were all the same age and born within a couple of months of each other. Perhaps to the dads we saw this as way of getting to interact with our daughters in a way that playing Pretty, Pretty Princess® doesn’t allow. Kind of like our forefathers that bought train sets for their daughters.
At the next dinner gathering, one of the fathers brought a LEGO® Educational kit with him. The dads and daughters sat around the kitchen table, building our first mechanical LEGO model, a scale. The girls and dads, had such a good time that we decided that we would form our own Jr. FLL team, so we all contributed some money to becoming a registered team. We had our first meeting as a team and the girls were tasked to come up with a name, The Electric Silver Puppies and we began working on that year’s Challenge. We had about 3 weeks to put our project together before our first Regional Jr. FLL and FLL Competition in Cookeville, TN.
We were totally blown away by the energy at the competition. When we arrived, as teams were practicing, the kids, parents, coaches and mentors were dressed in their matching team t-shirts, with the names and logos of their sponsors on the backs. Some teams had dyed their hair or painted their faces in team colors. Some wore matching “Cat in the Hat” style hats and were handing out buttons or other items with their team name/number on them. It was evident that this was no Science Fair. This was FUN!
Later that day, our team presented their project to the judges and to the other the other teams that came by our table. We also walked around and met the other teams and asked them about their projects. It was a great day. When we got back to the hotel and the girls were swimming in the pool, we asked them if they would like to do this next year. Without hesitation, they all said “Yeah”!
A few weeks later, our coach received an email from the Jr. FLL office, asking us if we would like to participate in the FIRST Championships in St. Louis. Well, how could we refuse such an honor. When we entered the Edward Jones Arena for the first time, the place was rockin’. There were Jr. FLL teams from across the US, as well as FLL, FTC and FRC teams from all over the US and throughout the world. It took me a few hours before I realized the real effect and reach that FIRST has made on making STEM so important to students from ages 6 to 18. The abilities, knowledge and wisdom of the kids and young adults was staggering.
Since our Jr. FLL team’s beginnings back in 2010, we have since moved into the FLL ranks. 2013 was our 2nd year in FLL and we added 2 more members to our team, one being our first boy. In April, several of our team members, for the 4th year, will travel to St. Louis. Not as competitors, merely as spectators and supporters.
While I cannot fully express the effect that being a mentor to an FLL team has made on me, I can tell you that the experience has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. To be able to help the kids with problem solving, team work, treating others with respect and to watch their excitement when they have conquered a challenge makes all the work that goes into being a mentor (and parent) worthwhile. And the Core Values that FIRST is built around will stay with us throughout our lives. I am also very fortunate to work for a company that, for 20 or more years, has been a vital sponsor of such worthwhile organization.
For those of you that are not currently involved in FIRST, I encourage you to attend or volunteer at a local event. Or, become a mentor, coach or perhaps even sponsor a local team. You don’t have to be an engineer or have a technical background; just the willingness to help. You’ll be amazed at what these kids can do!