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FIRST sparks passion for volunteerism

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Amanda Pham

FIRST Alum, Volunteer, and AmeriCorps VISTA Leader

FIRST Alum Amanda Pham is from FIRST Tech Challenge Team 5875, GENIUS, in Marietta, Georgia. She says the strong role models she met through FIRST sparked her passion for volunteerism. Amanda is now an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader serving with FIRST.

How did you get started with FIRST?
When I was 12, my friend’s mother formed a Girl Scout FIRST LEGO League team. When she invited me to join, I said “Sure, I’ll try it”. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I quickly dove in head first. I ended up staying [on FIRST teams] with those girls for six years until we graduated from high school.

How did FIRST influence your post-graduation life?
My participation in FIRST gave me a lot of technical and soft skills, but it also gave me a lot of amazing role models. I was always watching the adults that made my experiences possible. I have fond memories of the volunteers I encountered. I remember the FIRST LEGO League referee who danced at our table, the judge who told us she stood on a chair to vouch for my team, and the passionate partners and directors who never ceased to love their work. I decided at a young age that “I want to be like them” and started volunteering for field reset at age 13. Being in FIRST gave me access to the people who sparked my passion for volunteerism.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
After graduating high school, I became a national service member with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), a national service program that works to alleviate poverty by finding, training, and supporting full-time volunteers to build capacity for nonprofit organizations. I served a one year term with the North Mississippi VISTA Project at the University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education. I supported K-12 STEM programs, including FIRST Tech Challenge, in underserved areas across the state. Last summer I relocated to Indiana and became a VISTA Leader with the FIRST VISTA Program. I now work to expand the nationwide FIRST VISTA Program and support its 30+ members.

In addition to my job, I have tried to remain very active in the FIRST community. I spend a lot of my free time mentoring teams, coordinating events, and volunteering at competitions. I am on the FIRST Tech Challenge South Super Regional and Georgia planning committees and will be volunteering at over 16 competitions worldwide this season. When I moved to a new city, I quickly began looking for teams to “adopt” me as a mentor. No matter where I go, I know that there’s always a FIRST team that needs advice.

What’s next for you?
After my term as a VISTA Leader, I plan to start full-time school to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I will continue to look for new and exciting volunteer opportunities and am currently considering joining the Peace Corps after getting my degree. My long-term career goal is to get a job in project management, specifically systems and process improvement, in the nonprofit sector.

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