Team 1403 2021 Chairman’s Essay

Eighteen years ago, 35 high schoolers came together to build a robot. Over time, we sustain a cycle of students becoming experts and returning to train new generations. We strengthen our ability to work as a machine; we focus on different tasks and unite for common goals: to grow as a team, produce successful leaders, foster inclusion, and give back to the community while continuing to spread the FIRST message.

TEAM

Team 1403 is run by 2 Team Captains with Robot and Logistics Managers. We have 9 subteams with 19 captains for a total of 98 members, plus 18 mentors, including 8 FIRST alumni.

This season, we initiated a Safety Subteam that audits and certifies members on all aspects of our team’s safety by creating tests, videos, and presentations including a Fire Safety Video located on our website for other teams to access.

Due to COVID-19, we created guidelines for in person meetings with 5 stages of procedures. We invested in safety technology, including a UV light and fogging machine to sanitize our work environment.

We post about sponsors, mentors, events, and progress on our social media accounts to reach more people, with a total of 1,756 followers. We update our website with resources and tools, such as the Belt and Chain Calculator, for other FIRST teams to use.

Part of our Design Subteam focuses on animation, and recently created field and robot assembly Virtual Reality (VR) simulations to be shown at events. During the pandemic, we virtually made tutorials on how to run and create the VR system.

During regular build season meals, students play Kahoot! quizzes about various FIRST topics. It relieves stress and forms friendships. We continue this tradition through our virtual meetings.

149 Varsity letters have been earned since 2014 based on the team’s contract requirements, rewarding students with pins for keeping their varsity status.

Our largest sponsor is The Montgomery Township Board of Education (BOE), with whom we have a symbiotic relationship. The team’s machinery is donated to the school’s engineering classes. Annually, members present our robot and progress at a BOE meeting, and a video was shown virtually this year.

Many team events were postponed due to COVID restrictions, but we plan to continue them.

PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE REAL WORLD

Annually, we hold 6 cougar classes where members learn skills that will help them beyond robotics. After mentor-led presentations, members complete challenges encouraging team building. At 1 of our virtual cougar classes this year, we invited our school’s psychologist to talk about mental health and wellness. Other topics include leadership, introduction to robotics, college preparation, STEM in Food, business etiquette, and team culture.

Branding and documentation are valued in our team to foster a professional identity. At competitions, we distribute brochures about our team to promote values that shape us.

Our Robot Owner’s Manual consists of documentation from technical subteams and robot specifications with subsystem documents. Our team implements a “Drawing Control” process that ensures quality through many peer reviews before passing them to another subteam.

We annually update Subteam Standards to help members stay organized while assisting future leadership in conducting meetings. Subteams create Standard Operating Procedures that allow members to successfully run applications and use equipment.

During build season, we post weekly newsletters on our website that document our team’s progress and accomplishments. 

Members are held to professional standards through a code of conduct, a team uniform, and team and safety contracts which they must sign and follow each season.

At competitions, we display a professional backdrop in our pit to provide passersby with information about us. We maintain organization by updating pictures and statistics with recent endeavors.

DIVERSITY

For the past 3 years, Team 1403 has held cultural cougar classes that explore ethnic backgrounds of our members. In our 2020 virtual cultural cougar class, 6 cultures were presented.

One of our fellow The Compass Alliance (TCA) teams, FRC 4481, spoke to us about their Dutch traditions and climate. Our members were interested to learn about the diversity of our team and partner teams, spreading our core values and strengthening FIRST’s culture.

Since 2018, we encourage women to pursue STEM careers through our “Women in STEM” events at Kickoff and District Competition Events. A total of 30 women presented their journeys in professional STEM fields through our 6 events. We held our first virtual event last year, along with an informative meeting for incoming team members. To advertise, we design flyers, posters, and brochures.

Since its inception in 2013, female team members have attended our sponsor Picatinny Arsenal’s “Women in Engineering” event where they learn about a variety of STEM careers available.

As a new initiative, our team held virtual “Women’s Technical Nights”, where experienced female team members educated newer ones on programming, electrical, CAD, and basic mechanical tools. The women strengthened their bond by participating in Jeopardy and other hands-on activities.

Team 1403’s leadership is 42% female, with a 6% female team membership increase from last year.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

Annually, our team donates food and toiletries to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. In the past 7 years, we collected over 2,000 items. During COVID, we donated toiletries to the Montgomery Food Pantry.

We have mentored FLL Teams 26361 and 26362 since their inception 5 years ago. This year, 19 members virtually mentored these teams so far for 745 hours.

For 5 years, 65 of our members volunteered to teach students in grades 3-8 at the S.O.A.R Summer Program to build and program NXT LEGO robots for a total of 2500 hours.

For 4 years, our team members have taught children with special needs the fundamentals of EV3 robots and Scratch Programming at the Rock Brook School in Skillman NJ. This year, our members put together a virtual curriculum teaching VEX VR. We are partnering with Montgomery Special Education Parent Teacher Association to teach this curriculum for students in our district.  

We have worked with our school’s special education program for 2 years, helping them create a Raspberry Pi face-tracking program.

We taught the basics of EV3 robots in our district by mentoring students in grades 5-6 at their After School Robotics Recreation program under the tech teacher at our Lower Middle School.

We have been helping with our school’s Family STEM night since 2017. At our booth, attendees could interact with our VR system and VEX robots. We are currently working on creating a STEM week for middle schoolers.

At our district’s past 6 Science and Invention Convention events, members volunteered to judge younger students’ projects. We implemented our Family STEM Night booth at this event.

FUTURE OF TEAM 1403

To maintain sustainability, our subteams made detailed preseason lesson plans and instructional videos to help future leadership. For consistency, the main topics taught yearly are outlined in our standardized curriculum program.

This year we introduced the “Big Cougar Little Cougar” initiative where team veterans guide newer members in their subteams. These relationships run as peer mentorships that lead to friendships and memories.

We track our alumni yearly to maintain contact by adding them on social media such as LinkedIn and Instagram, and sending surveys. We received 217 responses on what they are pursuing and how the team impacted them dating back to 2004. During COVID, we added 2 alumni mentors.

THE FIRST MESSAGE

In 2007, we hosted our first Kickoff and continued this tradition by gathering about 36 teams and 900 members yearly to start the build season. We distribute Kit of Parts, show a video capturing our enthusiasm for the season, and host workshops such as Autodesk Inventor, pneumatics, bumpers, fundraising, and safety. In our 2020 Kickoff, we raised $800 for our sister team FRC 3132 to support the victims of Australian Bushfires.

Fifteen years ago, we hosted our first off-season event: Monty Madness. Ten years later, this tradition became an FMA District Event with 35 teams competing. This event is supported by over 100 volunteers including team members, our community, and alumni. Team parents run food concession sales which is our major fundraiser.

In 2017, Team 1403 became one of the founding core teams of The Compass Alliance (TCA) through which we regularly add to the sustainability of other FIRST teams.

Our team has published 10 written resources along with 52 videos on the TCA website. This year, we created an Online Meeting Resource which was published on the official FIRST website.

We have established strong bonds with teams across the world through TCA, including FRC 3132 and 4481. We are heavily involved in TCA group calls where we share projects and exchange feedback through preseason and build season.

We welcomed 18 teams to share resources at our first “TCA Workshop” in September 2019. We hosted 12 workshops consisting of topics such as CAD, mentor discussions, team, programming, and robot resources. Our team advisor presented his STEM classroom, encouraging other teams to model his program.

This year, 2 female team captains were asked by TCA to present and answer questions about their experiences in STEM at the Capital City Classic Workshops, hosted by FRC 1678, 2073, and 3859.

In spring 2020, our team was asked to virtually present our robot and team dynamics on FMA+, a weekly webcast hosted by FIRST Mid-Atlantic. 

Team 1403 revolves around the pillars of dedication, family, and quality. We believe that those instilled with these values will be able to successfully shape the next generation of STEM leaders into a diverse array of voices. Through dedicating 6,279 hours to the team so far, we are confident that our members will sustain their growth to transcend STEM culture in the real world.