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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.

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