Organization: STEM Center of Excellence, Inc.
How did you become interested in robotics?
I began volunteering through my company, UPS, in 2013. I noticed the low participation of African-American students and volunteers and decided I could make a difference by volunteering.
What made you want to start a team/work with students?
I have been a judge, referee, and announcer at competitions. As a Judge, I began to understand the need for coaches to guide the students and let the students solve the challenges. In 2015, a teacher asked if I could help restart her school’s VRC Team. I realized that if I just follow the process of coaching, the students would get the full experience of robotics. I realized I could raise the quality of coaching and, therefore, the skills and capabilities of the students in the program.
What has been the most rewarding part of coaching teams?
A rewarding part of coaching robotics teams is when a first-time student or parent realizes the value of the robotics program and contacts me to share a success story. For example, a parent on one of my elementary school teams bought a robot for her 3rd-grade daughter as a Christmas gift. She sent me a text with a photo of her daughter working alone to assemble a robot. That was an awesome feeling!
But the most rewarding for me is when a student comes back to volunteer in a program or at tournaments. These are the students that have made a decision to pursue some level of STEM education or career which is the biggest measurement of success.
What strengths and skills have your students developed?
Do it. There are students who are longing to belong, and this is the perfect space for them. If you need any help, I am glad to offer I have seen an increase in the level of understanding and interest in technology, robotics, coding, mathematics, teamwork, and confidence from almost all students. When trying something new, students struggle or are afraid to even try. When we get the students to work together and encourage them to try the unknown, they come to understand that they cannot do it all, and do not have to do it all. They realize they can go a lot further by working together and have more success working as a team.
It is a great benefit when a student learns that the only way to success is through failure because it means you have tried and learned. So many students are afraid to consider getting involved with robotics because of the unknown and likelihood of failure. A student who learns to “fail fast” so you can get to the succeeding is a student with a major resource in their toolkit.
Did you have any mentors?
Glenn Speights, a former Senior Software Engineer from Lockheed Martin, was instrumental in helping me set up the curriculum. I met him at a robotics event where he was serving as a judge.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting involved with robotics/starting teams?
Read requirements and follow the process. Read how it works (training material, rules, etc.) and then follow the process. Let go and let the students! The VEX program works for the novice as well as the veteran Technologists. The key is in following the process!