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From FIRST LEGO League to FIRST Mentor

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Harrison Ford

FIRST Alum & Mentor

Harrison Ford got his start with FIRST LEGO League in fifth grade at his elementary school in Flint, Michigan. He’d always been fascinated by science and invention, but says he probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in STEM without FIRST. “I would have been interested in robotics, but I wouldn’t have had the exposure. There were no other STEM-related programs in my school,” he explained.

Family difficulties forced a hiatus in high school, but Ford (no relation to the actor) came back senior year and won a FIRST scholarship to Kettering University. His experience with FIRST prepared him for college, both academically and on a personal level. He learned to use basic tools and took a CAD course, skills that paid off at Kettering.

The real benefit was the way it enlarged his world. “As an African American coming from Flint, I got to see many different types of communities and had relationships with other people and cultures that I never would have been exposed to,” Ford said. “I can learn technical skills by reading a book. I can’t learn about people unless I actually get to meet them.”

Today as a mentor, he’s introducing a new generation of kids to FIRST. “The majority of kids that I have on my team are inner-city kids, and they come with their own backgrounds, stories, and problems,” Ford explained. “As a mentor, I focus on trying to build them into better individuals rather than trying to get them to hurry up and build a robot. The ultimate goal is for them to go to college or learn a trade.” At the FIRST Robotics Community Center at Kettering, team members get tutoring, as well as robotics training, and there are strict academic standards for participating in away meets and out-of-state trips.

Ford’s team has had success sending kids to college. One alumna of his team is now enrolled at Kettering. An alumnus got a full ride to Western Michigan. As for Ford, he’s now working full-time for Chrysler. And, after speaking at the Kettering FIRST Center’s opening ceremony alongside FIRST Founder Dean Kamen and Michigan Governor Snyder, he’s become one of FIRST in Michigan’s best spokespersons. He was recently invited to Governor Snyder’s State of the State address, where he and FIRST in Michigan were recognized.

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