When it comes to robotics, Allendale’s FIRST is a leader for young engineers and scientists across Ottawa county. FIRST, for inspiration and recognition of science and technology, was founded in 1989 and has ushered in scores of young men and women whose eye for detail and passion for “making things work” has driven competition for more than two decades.
FIRST’s goal is to equip students to design “accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.” And coaches Chad Potinsky and David Austin are doing just that with the students involved in their program.
With teams for even the youngest to join, various robotics groups in Allendale (like Jr. FIRST Lego League, FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), open the door to not only the science of programming, but also opportunities for kids to solve real world problems that impact communities in real, tangible ways.
“People often think of scientists as people who walk around with calculators, out of touch with others. We want to give people a new view of science as being very hands-on and as a field that can positively impact others. For example, our robotics competitions always include solving real-world problems like how we can use technology to help manage natural disasters,” said Coach Austin.
But equally as important as what happens on the competition floor, say Coaches Potinsky and Austin, are the life skills that young robotics engineers learn while working within their various teams. Aside from learning to work together, they must listen to a variety of opinions, weighing each and coming to a unified group decision; during and after competition they must be able to share what they’ve learned and do so while treating everyone with respect.
Dovetailing perfectly with these life skills is the cornerstone of the FIRST Community: gracious professionalism. FIRST’s website explains this motto perfectly:
With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.
In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.
Coach Austin shared an experience during a recent competition in the Gull Lake area where Allendale students had the opportunity to put this into practice with an opposing team. “That team ended up doing well, but it was worth it for our kids to go out of their way to help,” he said. “If we’re going to win, we want to win because we’re better — not because someone had a faulty wire.”
It’s with this mindset and focus on integrity that students face robotics challenges throughout the winter and into the spring. Coach Potinsky is passionate about Allendale’s program, which he credits with offering unique experiences for the next generation of engineers:
“The kids get a real world perspective of science and engineering and it’s a little different than what they’d get in the classroom. They get to design a robot and take it from concept to prototype. They are able to practice their design skills, build something, program it and strategize its use. It’s pretty cool to be able to see that kind of growth and development in our students.”
We applaud the young men and women who are making great strides with robotics and personal integrity under the leadership of Allendale’s terrific coaches!