Chairman’s Award Long Essay 2013

The following is our long essay submission for the 2013 Chairman’s Award at the Chesapeake Regional.

Electricity is always in motion at Absolute Zero. Nothing can resist it. It can derail apathy, pulse waves of STEM throughout the community, and become an engulfing power for US FIRST. Here at Absolute Zero Electricity (AZE), we enlarge our rotations to propel the universe of engineering to places it never before dared to travel. Every hour of every day, AZE is a compelling force of life and energy, drawing in everyone around us. Who are we? We are Team 3941. Welcome to the Vortex. Resistance is Futile.

 

Who We Are:
TechBrick Robotics, our parent program, started in 2003 when 11-year old Amy Ciavolino received a LEGO RCX system. She was instantly captured by the mechanics and programming required to run the robot. Watching one of the early MD FLL Championships, she said, “I can do this.” And so, the family entered the world of US FIRST. This became the start of our monthly Friday Night LEGO Club for homeschoolers and later became our first FLL team.
Over its 10-year history, TechBrick has grown from a single FLL team to multiple FLL teams, expanded into Jr.FLL, FVC, then FTC, and in 2012, into FRC. Our FTC teams have earned trips to the World Championships 6 times; the FLL teams have won major awards at the MD Championships every year. Each TechBrick team has been comprised of 4 to 25 students, totaling over 314 student years of education.
TechBrick and AZE open our doors to all students who want to develop their STEM skills and teamwork in a fun, value-centered environment. Consequently, AZE is comprised of students from 3 Maryland counties with multiple home schools and high schools represented. Our invaluable mentors have a wide variety of backgrounds and occupations; we are aided by world-class engineers, scientists, business leaders, and manufacturers from organizations like the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), CACI, and DAP Products.
In this our second year, AZE has already grown into a fighting force of teamwork and innovation; we charged forward to win the Chesapeake Regional’s Rookie All-Star Award last year and used our momentum to launch more endeavors in learning, outreach, and organization.

 

Why and How We Are a Role Model for Other FIRST Teams:
AZE’s vortex gains its pull from our commitment to the core values of FIRST and our team mission: we exist to teach students to solve technological challenges while building their character, growing them into stronger, more productive individuals in a faith-based environment. Structure, inter-team communication, and respect form the framework of our team; each member’s input is graciously considered. Our strong, professional mentor-student bond facilitates learning and quality work. Participating in a kind, purposeful team instills confidence in our students; they realize that there is no challenge too large for them to tackle. TechBrick has a long record of generosity towards other teams. We have provided hundreds of FIRST tips to teams in the U.S. and 50 countries via our comprehensive website, and we exercise coopertition by helping competitor teams solve last-minute mechanical and programming issues at events. Team 3941 continues this record of coopertition at events, online, and beyond. When FRC 1980 (The Brigade) disbanded last year, we opened our arms to their members and accepted them into our team. Alongside our eagerness to help comes a willingness to learn from others. We each appreciate the advice and aid we have received from more experienced teams, including teams 365 (MOE) and 836 (Robobees). Additionally, we realize that the help we seek and receive from our numerous sponsors is what makes our team and our STEM initiatives possible. Those who know their values and stand by them inevitably become leaders; TechBrick’s commitment to openness, virtue, learning, and community involvement has made TechBrick FIRST’s most influential organization in Northeastern Maryland. Beyond local outreach, open houses, and direct contact with sponsors, Team 3941 works to bring FIRST’s values to a global scale through international partnerships and increased online presence so that the vortex of FIRST will envelop as many people as possible.

 

Innovation in Spreading the FIRST Message:
Innovation: it’s what we do at AZE, not only in constructing robots, but also in reaching our community and the world with FIRST’s core values. Over the years, we have performed countless robotics demonstrations to promote FIRST and STEM education at a wide range of venues, including local churches, schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Baltimore’s African American Heritage Festival. Our members have helped run tutorials in public speaking, effective communication, developing an engineering notebook, and programming in NXT and Robot-C, for other teams at the New Jersey and Maryland kickoff workshops (2010, 2011, 2012). We have also hosted 2 FTC training workshops at Harford Community College (HCC) for rookie FTC teams. This summer, our Rebound Rumble robot, TAZER, threw the opening pitch at an Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Other channels of outreach include “Bristle Bot” workshops for elementary-age children and numerous appearances in news media.
One of our outreach events that promotes competitive engineering is our annual Sea Perch underwater robot competition hosted at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Sea Perch teams, like FIRST teams, meet a yearly challenge to build a robot on a limited budget. Sea Perch differs from FRC, however, in its integral focus on precision, in-the-box engineering, and careful attention to procedures. For our Sea Perch competitions, we invited local middle schools, high schools, and Boys and Girls Clubs to purchase kits and form small teams during the summer. We set rules, awarded prizes, and fostered the participants’ STEM enthusiasm.
AZE and TechBrick have recently expanded our outreach to a global scale. To reach students from beyond our community, we have pursued a partnership with younger FIRST students from China. We held a Skype interchange with 6 Chinese teams in January in which we mutually demonstrated our robots and informed each other about our respective teams and projects. This conversation provided a strong foundation for future international outreach.
The most far-reaching outreach endeavor TechBrick has undertaken is its website. TechBrick.com has had millions of hits since its creation, and receives another 100 to 400 global visitors daily. Thousands have utilized TechBrick.com’s documents and tools to improve their FIRST robots and teams, and many have thanked us for our online resources. AZE’s own website provides resources including our past award submissions, links to helpful FRC sites, and a help section on nutrition. We strive to continue TechBrick’s legacy of innovation in communication by branching out into various forms of social media and more advanced online technology.

 

Community Impact and Service:
Absolute Zero Electricity is situated in a highly technological community. Aberdeen Proving Ground is just minutes from our team’s headquarters; in a close proximity to us are the Edgewood Proving Ground, dozens of manufacturing plants, and Peach Bottom nuclear power plant. Despite the area’s focus on STEM innovation, Harford and Cecil County students have had limited STEM opportunities. TechBrick effectively opened the door for local students to be part of FIRST and brought STEM education squarely in the community’s line of sight. We have developed FLL teams at the Aberdeen and Edgewood Boys and Girls Clubs and FTC teams at Havre de Grace and John Carroll High Schools. Today, there are dozens of Jr.FLL, FLL, FTC, and FRC teams in the area (and around the world), all of which can trace their existence back to TechBrick’s first FLL team in 2004. Local government entities and businesses now have an increased interest in STEM promotion, such as ARL, which provides internship opportunities for middle and high school students. STEM education and FIRST in particular have become an integral part of the culture of our region due to the efforts of TechBrick.

 

Partnerships:
TechBrick has partnered with ARL which provides mentors and funding through the National Defense Engineering Partnership. We are fortunate to have ARL mentors who help connect our work to their valuable research for the soldier. AZE also benefits with a grant from the jcpenney’s store in White Marsh, MD. The innovation company SURVICE Engineering has graciously allowed us to use their office and warehouse for our team headquarters.
TechBrick was also an integral part of the early formation of LET’S GO Boys and Girls, a STEM education program for underserved children in out-of-school programs. Our mentors have helped the organization write more than a dozen publications which are being used to bring STEM education to thousands of urban children.
AZE has also begun partnerships with many local FLL teams, including those at the Edgewood Boys and Girls Club and the MD School for the Blind. Our members serve as team mentors and encouragers for young FIRST students throughout our community. TechBrick, AZE, and SURVICE Engineering stretched our partnership further this January by hosting our first FLL Qualifier at our headquarters.

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Conclusion:
Absolute Zero Electricity realizes that we are not merely a team of student competitors: we are part of something greater. Each of us is a part of the grand and powerful vortex of STEM education that will inevitably make our world and our future brighter. As our influence expands, we will continue to make FIRST and STEM know throughout our community and across the globe.

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