FIRST CONNECTS: Local Impact Stories is the first in a series of blog posts that we’ll be sharing in the coming days, highlighting FIRST’s impact on careers, entrepreneurship and the local diversification strategy.
A decade after Canada’s manufacturing sector took a huge hit resulting in many young workers being steered clear of skilled trades’ careers, the skills gap has shown few signs of narrowing.
High-energy competition from students across the region, accompanied by thumping rock music, was expected to draw in hundreds of spectators this weekend for the Windsor-Essex Great Lakes FIRST Robotics event, until the current COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all FIRST events and the suspension of the 2019 season.
The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) program brings together students from across North America in a robotics-based competition in which all teams face the same annual challenge and are then judged upon how they respond to the challenge.
“It’s a remarkable event and a great program for students whether or not they’re into robotics,” said Larry Koscielski, vice-president of process and technology development at Centerline (Windsor) Inc., a local company which has been heavily involved in mentoring and sponsoring teams in the program for a number of years.
“It challenges kids in the hopes that they can find a passion for engineering, computer programming and software design,” said Koscielski.
Koscielski said that Centerline has also been involved with engineering competitions at the University of Windsor but “there you are largely preaching to the choir.”
“With FIRST Robotics, you are getting a chance to pique a students’ interest before they leave high school and perhaps help them find their true calling,” he said.
The Windsor-Essex FIRST program was established in 2011 with Sandwich Secondary School Sabre Robotics (Team 772) as the only local participant.
Largely because of a strategic partnership between St. Clair College, University of Windsor, WEtech Alliance and Sandwich High School, the program had grown to 18 schools just two years later. In total, there are close to 70 FIRST robotics teams competing in FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotic Competition in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent today.
Windsor-Essex FIRST Robotics Breakdown:
• 17 local FIRST Robotics Competition Team (High School)
• 2 FIRST Tech Challenge Teams (High School)
• 51 FIRST Lego League Team (Grade Schools)
In 2015, recognizing that Chatham-Kent schools did not have enough participating students to form individual school teams, St. Clair launched a mentorship program and established C.K. Cyber Pack, a multi-school team.
The initiative was so successful that the team qualified for the world championships in St. Louis, Missouri in its first year.
Founded in 1989, the non-profit charitable organization now operates in 110 countries with more than 660,000 students participating on 79,000 teams.
As we look back on the last decade of growth of FIRST Robotics across Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent, the Windsor-Essex FIRST Robotics Committee would like to extend a heartfelt thank you for the thousands of hours and dollars donated by mentors, judges, volunteers and industry and academic partners.