Chairman’s Long Essay 2015

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. Every hour of every day, AZE is a compelling force of life and energy. Who are we? We are Team 3941. We do not advocate short-term investments. We exist to develop the world around us, as we develop as a team. This is a long-term project. This is not just a phAZE.

Who We Are:

TechBrick Robotics, our parent program, started in 2003 when 11-year old Amy Ciavolino received a LEGO RCX system. After 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 12-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 Championship 6 times, the FLL teams have won major awards at the MD Championship every year. Each TechBrick team has been comprised of 4 to 34 students, totaling over 314 student years of education.

TechBrick and AZE open their doors to all students who want to develop their STEM skills in a fun, value-centered environment.  AZE is comprised of students from 3 counties in Maryland and Pennsylvania, with multiple 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), Raytheon, National Instruments, Survice Engineering Company, American, PTC, and TiePoint Engineering.

In our fourth and current year, AZE has grown into a fighting force of teamwork and innovation; we charged forward to win the Chesapeake Regional’s Rookie All-Star Award our first year and used our momentum to launch more endeavors in learning, outreach, and organization, leading us to win the Engineering Inspire Award in our second year. Since then our team has only continued to move forward to achieve higher goals.


Why and How We Are a Role Model for Other FIRST Teams

This year, the biggest stimulator of AZE’s character originates from the core values of FIRST and our team mission: we exist to teach students life principles through hands-on engineering challenges, team bonding, hard work, and the importance of community outreach. Structure, inter-team communication, and respect form the framework of our team; each member’s input is graciously considered. Our professional mentor-student bond facilitates learning and quality work. Participating in a kind, purposeful team instills confidence in our students; they realize that no challenge is 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 its record of coopertition at events, online, and beyond. When FRC 1980 (The Brigade) disbanded three years ago, we welcomed their members, and now they are essential parts of AZE.

Alongside our eagerness to help comes a willingness to learn from others. We 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.  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 activity so that the message and vision of FIRST will not come across as just a phase to our community.

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, the Omni Shoreham Hotel, and Baltimore’s African American Heritage Festival. Our team also  has a tradition of throwing the opening pitch at Aberdeen Ironbirds games. 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 (2010-2014). We have also hosted 7 FTC training workshops at Harford Community College for rookie FTC teams, as well as “Bristle Bot” workshops for elementary-age children. We have made 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.  We invite local students from across the county and beyond to form teams for the Sea Perch competitions. We set rules, awarded prizes, and fostered the participants’ STEM enthusiasm. This past fall, AZE hosted a Boy Scout Merit Badge Day where team members educated the Boy Scouts on Lego Robotics and the basics design, programming other vital aspects of engineering. For many of them, it was their first exposure to STEM and is an experience that is just one way that AZE is helping the community.

AZE, through TechBrick have expanded their outreach to a global scale. To reach students beyond our community, we have pursued a partnership with younger FIRST students from China. Three years ago we held a Skype interchange with 6 Chinese teams 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.


AZE’s website provides resources including our past award submissions and links to helpful FRC sites. To accompany our website, we are continuously looking for ways to engage in social media to farther our reach. The most extensive outreach endeavor TechBrick has undertaken is its website. TechBrick’s website  has received over a million hits since its creation in 2006, and receives 100 to 400 global visitors daily. Thousands have utilized its documents and tools to improve their FIRST robots and teams, and many have benefited fromour online resources.


Community Impact and Service:

Absolute Zero Electricity is situated in a highly technological community. Our team now meets on Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which is near many research laboratories. 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 into 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 hundreds of Jr.FLL, FLL, FTC, and FRC teams around the world which can trace their existence to TechBrick. 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.

Our  alumni show that their STEM education is much more than a PhAZE of their lives. 75% of our graduates have moved on to study STEM fields in college, and 81% of our alumni have returned to mentor FRC teams. AZE’s  members have held college internships at ARL, NASA, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the World War 2 Museum, and last year, one of our students was recognized by ARL for the best undergraduate research project out of 250 students.


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 soldiers. AZE also benefits from a grant from Raytheon. Currently, we are located in the STEM center on the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  We can give thanks to the Army Research Laboratory for giving us access to this facility and other sorts of resources.
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 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 advocates for young FIRST students throughout our community. TechBrick, AZE, John Caroll, and SURVICE Engineering stretched our partnership further this January by hosting our first FLL Qualifier at our facility.


At Absolute Zero Electricity, we realize we are more than a group of students: we are part of powerful force of STEM education that will inevitably brighten our world and future. Each of us is making this year’s efforts more than a passing phAZE. As our influence expands, we will make FIRST and STEM’s reach known throughout the world.


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