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FIRST inspires engineers

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Nicki Bonczyk

FIRST Alum, Volunteer, Mentor, and Coach

FIRST Alum Nicki Bonczyk fell in love with engineering after joining FIRST Robotics Competition team 107, R.O.B.O.T.I.C.S., from Holland, Michigan. After high school, she studied product design and manufacturing engineering and interned for JR Automation, eventually landing a full-time job there as a mechanical engineer – her dream job. “Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day,” Nicki says. “Can you think of a better job?”

How did you get involved with FIRST?
I was born and raised in Holland, Michigan, and I used to dream of becoming an architect. My dad, Bob Bonczyk, has been involved with FIRST for more than 20 years now, so it’s always been around my life. My mom, Michelle Bonczyk, a 14-year mentor, used to take me to FIRST events when I was little and I would see just how fun robotics was.  Naturally, when I got to high school, I joined Team 107 and fell in love with engineering and the idea of being an engineer.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
After high school, I went to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) for Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering. I had developed a passion for mechanical engineering while on the team in high school, and GVSU was a great fit. Being that GVSU hosted a FIRST event (now the West Michigan District Event), I had a chance to see the university and its passion for FIRST.  GVSU has a great Co-op program, and I got work experience before I graduated through my internship at JR Automation.

After graduation, I continued to work at JR Automation and shifted from an intern to a full-time mechanical engineer, which is really a dream job! Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day – can you think of a better job?

You’ve continued to be involved with FIRST as an Alum; what have you been up to?
I’ve stayed really involved with FIRST since becoming an alum. I help coach a FIRST Tech Challenge team with my mom and a few other FIRST Alumni and help Team 107 with CAD, as well as work with my employer to provide a full-sized practice field for the area teams to use. I’m also a head referee and volunteer coordinator for Michigan events.

How do you balance FIRST volunteering with school and work?
When I was still a student at GVSU, I made a point to put school and completing my engineering degree first.  So, I decided to volunteer at events while I was completing my degree. Depending on the semester, I could do two to six events a year.

Now that I am working full time, my schedule is a little more predictable.  I have been able to start up a FIRST Tech Challenge team and work with the local middle school students a few nights a week.  I can give my parents a hand when they need it.  I got lucky by finding a company to work for that really supports FIRST.  With so many events being held in Michigan, there are many opportunities for myself and my coworkers to volunteers.  It has been great to get more coworkers involved at the events as volunteers.

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It's Important to Support STEM All Year Round

Dec 06, 2017 By Jay Flores, Global STEM Ambassador, Rockwell Automation

It’s important to keep students challenged, especially during breaks from school. Equally as important is the atmosphere. Rule one: have fun. Jay Flores, global STEM ambassador for Rockwell Automation, explores interesting ways to keep kids involved in learning, even when school’s out. 


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FIRST connects students with valuable mentors

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Mashroor Rashid


FIRST Alum Mashroor Rashid is a 2015 Dean’s List Award Winner from FIRST Tech Challenge Team 2408, Shrapnel Sergeants, in Hazelwood, Missouri. He is grateful for the variety of mentors he’s gained through FIRST and plans to pay it forward to future generations.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
Currently, I attend the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where I received a FIRST Scholarship, and study Computer Engineering

You’ve had mentors, or mentored others, through FIRST; what advice do you have to share with others?
I have been mentored by wonderful parents, teachers, and engineers. Each mentor brings different skills and trait to the table, and are able to pass their knowledge on with ease. I'm incredibly thankful for what they've taught me, as I can pass their teachings on to the next generation of FIRSTers.

What is the best piece of advice the you’ve received?
"When opportunity comes your way, grab it and run with it, as far as you can." and, "What you put in is what you get out." My coach told me these words after the 2015 FIRST Championship, in regard to college applications, robotics, and schoolwork. He would push us to work as hard as possible, because he knew that the team had potential to do well.

What is your favorite FIRST memory?
Winning the St. Louis Regional in 2013. I can remember talking to my teammates during the build season and saying, "Man, I just don't see us walking out of there." After alliance selections, we just kept winning matches, eventually coming to the finals. Being able to attend Championship as a freshman really opened my eyes up to how important teamwork and Gracious Professionalism is.

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Investing in A Culture of Gratitude

Nov 22, 2017 By Mark Giordono, Vice President of Development, FIRST

This time of year, many of us pause to give thanks. At FIRST, we’re grateful to our tireless mentors, coaches, volunteers, alumni, sponsors, fundraisers and donors who support our mission wholeheartedly. They deserve to hear our thanks not just now, or at the end of the season, but all year round.

To Hire STEM-Literate Graduates, Companies Must Help Develop Them

Oct 18, 2017 By Don Bossi, President, FIRST

The demand for qualified STEM talent is urgent; opportunities in STEM fields are expected to reach more than 2.7 million openings in 2020. And, in the not-so-distant future, all careers – whether they’re in engineering or marketing, blue-collar or white-collar – will require STEM skills and digital literacy.


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FIRST taught me how to work smart, like a startup

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Peyton Fitzgerald

FIRST Alum, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 5459 “Ipswich Tigers” and Recipient, Northeastern University’s NU-FIRST Scholarship

When I wrote an essay to apply for Northeastern University’s full-tuition NU-FIRST Scholarship, I found it difficult to convey what FIRST meant to me in just 500 words. FIRST not only taught me about engineering; it taught me how to learn. Right off the bat, I discovered the benefits of failing early and failing well.

I joined my school's new FIRST Robotics Competition team as a founding member my sophomore year. We worked like a startup, where everybody did a bit of everything. I ran the business side of things – social media and fundraising – but I was also involved with building the robot itself, which is how I discovered my passion for mechanical engineering. My senior year, I became captain.

Most things I've experienced in high school have been fairly laid out: You get a task, and as long as you work hard, it'll turn out fine. On a FIRST team, just like a startup, you can work as hard as you can in the wrong direction, and it won't work. You have to work smart. It serves a lot of inspiration for me to remember the moment at a FIRST competition event when our robot worked. After our robot failed at the previous event, we had spent six hours rebuilding it. When the robot did exactly what it was supposed to, it was the best feeling in the world.

FIRST is about more than the competitions. Some of my teammates and I took on a project with a small nonprofit called Ocean Alliance. Their scientists fly drones over whales and collect the sprayed mucus for DNA samples. They were having difficulty judging distances between the drone and the whale, so my team worked on a system that would relay an audio clip of the drone's height back to the driver.

Even before I picked a college, I was planning to mentor a local team. I want to give back to FIRST because of the impact it has made on my life. That became even more important after I received Northeastern’s NU-FIRST Scholarship, which will cover my full tuition for up to eight semesters, as long as I maintain a 3.0 GPA in the College of Engineering. This season, I am mentoring Team 125, “The NU-TRONs.” I think I'll be learning just as much as a mentor as I did as a student.

How One Act of Kindness Changed Me

Sep 20, 2017 By Rhodes Conover, FIRST Alumnus; Student, Florida Polytechnic University

We had failed. As other teams celebrated their victories, our robot sat motionless on the playing field; each cheer from the crowd felt like salt in our wounds.


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FIRST helps teachers discover more through STEM

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Maureen Reilly

FIRST LEGO League Coach

When Maureen Reilly, fourth-grade teacher at PS 261 in Brooklyn, NY, decided to co-lead a FIRST® LEGO® League team at her school, she had no idea what to expect. She wasn’t even sure she’d know what to teach. After all, she wasn’t “into” science or math and knew nothing about starting a robotics program. She did know one thing—a team would improve the situation. So she recruited the special education teacher and the technology teacher at her school. Neither knew anything about robotics either, but they all agreed, Maureen laughed, “to forgive ourselves for not knowing things.”

Despite being unsure at first, the FIRST robotics program remains one of Maureen’s best teaching experiences. After doing it themselves, Maureen and her fellow teachers believe anyone can start a robotics program at their school. On the FIRST Inspire blog, the teachers share six lessons learned when they pushed themselves and their students to discover more through STEM.

Are You Teaching the First Global Language? We’re here to help

Dec 07, 2016 by FIRST Staff

Did you know that only 33 states allow students to count computer science course toward high school graduation? And although 90 percent of parents want their child to study computer science, only 40 percent of schools teach it.