FIRST CONNECTS: to STEM Education is the fourth in a series of blog posts highlighting FIRST’s impact on careers, entrepreneurship and the local diversification strategy.
Offering scholarships to students involved in the local FIRST Robotics program is an investment in the region’s future, according to representatives of both the University of Windsor and St. Clair College.
Waseem Habash, vice-president of academics at St. Clair, attended his first robotics competition when his daughter was competing on behalf of Assumption High School and after seeing first-hand the level of excitement, he was able to convince college administrators to get on board.
“I thought we need to get behind this program,” recalls Habash. “It was very impressive and these robotics students are, in some ways, the new rock stars in their high school.”
In 2012, there was only one local high school competing in the program and now there are 17.
FIRST Robotics connects students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and provides real-world learning in engineering, design, marketing, public relations and fund-raising.
In addition to providing $1,000 scholarships, St. Clair welcomes any competing team to take advantage of the sophisticated equipment and staff members at the school’s Ford Centre of Manufacturing Excellence.
“Some of the work they can do themselves and some has to be done by our instructors but there’s a deep sense of purposeful learning because the students are doing something they will get an immediate benefit from as they build their robots,” explained Habash.
“And working in our facility gives them a first-hand look at how the manufacturing and engineering process has changed in the last 20 years,” he said. “We need engineers and computer programmers in this area with high-tech real-world skills and this program brings it all together.”
Al Douglas, Professor & Coordinator, Electromechanical Engineering Technician – Robotics at St. Clair College is one of many faculty members involved with local outreach through involvement as a mentor and coach in FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Lego League.
“I got into FIRST Robotics because I was interested in the technology side of things. I’ve stayed in it because the kids are a lot of fun to work with,” explained Douglas. “They get to experience the highs and lows, successes and failures. They are responsible for their own destinies in these programs. When something goes wrong, you need to figure it out and fix it. This is true for grade school kids at the First Lego League level and at the high school FRC level.”
“These are the same skills that employers tell us they want to hire. Find the problem, Figure it out. Fix it,” he said . “We are fortunate at St. Clair to now be seeing a lot of these kids coming into our programs. For them their FIRST experience continues as we have had many college students continue with the program as event volunteers and mentors. It doesn’t end after high school.”
The University of Windsor, meanwhile, also provides $1,000 scholarships for general admission students with an increase to $2,000 if the participant enrolls in science or engineering programs.
“FIRST Robotics inspires the next generation of leaders and innovators in science, engineering and technology and the Windsor-Essex Great Lakes District event strengthens Windsor-Essex as a national leader in automation and innovation,” said Robert Gordon, University of Windsor president and vice-chancellor.
“The university remains a proud sponsor of FIRST Robotics through direct and in-kind support, and automatic entrance scholarships for participating students,” adds Gordon.
The university’s faculty of science also provides $1,000 in sponsorship to each team in the Windsor-Essex region and the faculty of engineering provides each team with in-kind support through workshops and mentoring.
In the 2018-2019 school year the University of Windsor gave out 12 entrance scholarships ($1000 each) to FRC alumni. In 2019-2020 the University of Windsor gave out 40.
Erica Rossi is among a growing number of Windsor-Essex FIRST Alumni enrolling in STEM fields at local post-secondary institutions. She is currently enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering Co-Op program at the University of Windsor and is entering her second year in the Fall.
“My experience in FIRST Robotics largely influenced my decision to pursue STEM education after high school, specifically engineering. While in FIRST I was able to develop critical thinking, communication, teamwork and problem solving skills; and I was afforded the opportunity to take on leadership roles within my team and FIRST. All of this allowed me to grow not only as a student but as a person. During my time in FIRST I was also able to work with many mentors and industry professionals who not only passed on their knowledge but their own experiences which further motivated me to enter a STEM field of study. When deciding on a post-secondary program all of my experiences made engineering a perfect fit for me. Engineering has allowed me to combine my passion for creating change with all of the technical skills that FIRST has helped me develop. When applying to Engineering I took advantage of all scholarship opportunities related to STEM and FIRST Canada. Now that I have completed my first year at the University of Windsor I can honestly say I made the right decision.”
FIRST Robotics Canada is proud to offer scholarship opportunities to alumni with partner Colleges and Universities including the University of Windsor and St. Clair College. Click here for a list of the scholarships offered in Canada, and the application links.
Check out the other stories from the FIRST Connects series:
Local Impact Stories | Diversification Strategy | Careers & Entrepreneurship