Rookie All-Star Long Essay

The following is our long essay submission for the 2012 Rookie All-Star Award.

At Absolute Zero, Electricity flows without resistance. TechBrick’s inaugural year in FRC has our team off the starting blocks and charging at full speed. Supported by TechBrick’s rich history of US FIRST involvement and promotion, Team 3941 Absolute Zero Electricity (AZE) has the electric potential to derail low expectations, pulse waves of STEM education throughout our community, and boldly bring the message of FIRST to places it has never gone before. This is just the beginning, and what a beginning it is.

WHO WE ARE:

TechBrick 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.
Amy’s father, Marco, mailed an invitation to homeschoolers in the region. Thirty eager young engineers showed up for the first meeting. This became the start of our first FLL team and what later became a monthly Friday Night LEGO Club which served as a feeder for new teams.

In 2004, our first FLL and Jr.FLL teams were formed. From there we grew, adding multiple FLL teams each year. After two years of FLL, our initial team members entered high school; thus, TechBrick chose to engage in FVC and continued for two years before taking on the new FTC program. Over its 9-year history, TechBrick has fielded 9 Jr.FLL, 15 FLL, 7 FTC, and now 1 FRC team. Our FTC teams have earned trips to the World Championships 5 times; the FLL teams have won major awards at the MD Championships every year. Each of the TechBrick teams has been comprised of 5 to 21 students, totaling over 238 student years of education.

TechBrick opens its 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 three Maryland counties with multiple home schools and high schools represented. Our mentors have a wide variety of backgrounds and occupations; we have been aided by knowledgeable and committed engineers, scientists, business leaders, and manufacturers from organizations like the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), CACI, Verizon Wireless, and DAP Products.

WHY AND HOW WE ARE A ROLE MODEL FOR OTHER FIRST TEAMS:

From the beginning, the mission of TechBrick and AZE has been clear: 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. All we do reflects the virtues and values of FIRST. Inter-team communication and respect is an integral part of our team structure; each member’s ideas are graciously acknowledged and considered. The respect our team members have for our mentors and their professional experience facilitates learning and quality work. Working on 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 demonstrated by our FLL and FTC 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. Alongside our eagerness to help comes a willingness to learn from others. All our members appreciate the advice and aid we have received from more experienced teams, including teams #365 (MOE), #836 (the Robobees), and #1980 (the Brigade). Additionally, we realize that the help we seek and receive from our numerous sponsors is what makes our FIRST teams and local 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.

Even though AZE has only existed as a team for a few short weeks, we have already become a close-knit, cooperative, and dedicated group, and have actively sought to promote FIRST through a team open house and direct contact with sponsors. AZE strives to continue TechBrick’s longstanding pattern of excellence in leadership through building team relationships and spreading the FIRST message to as many members of the local community as possible.

INNOVATION IN SPREADING THE FIRST MESSAGE:

Innovation: it’s what we do at TechBrick, 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, the community Boys and Girls Club, and Baltimore’s African American Heritage Festival. Notable among these were our “Bristle Bots” expos at the Good Shepherd school in Perryville and the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Youth Center. Our FTC team has helped run tutorials for other teams at the New Jersey robotics workshops, Maryland kickoff workshops (2010 and 2011), and a spring 2011 workshop at Harford Community College (HCC) for new teams. Topics included starting a rookie team, public speaking and effective communication, developing an engineering notebook, and programming in NXT and Robot-C. Also, FTC #7′s Hot Shot! robot threw the opening pitch at an Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Other channels of outreach include a Sea Perch robotics event (in 2011), and numerous appearances in the newspaper.

An annual TechBrick event to promote FIRST and STEM is our LEGO Boat Race each June. In this event, kids in grades K-12 make motorized boats from their own LEGO collections and race them across a swimming pool. Participants are rewarded for their creativity, ingenuity, and effectiveness at solving the engineering challenge of making a floating, moving boat.

One of our more creative methods of spreading the word about FIRST is our Applebee’s Breakfast Fundraiser held at the local restaurant. TechBrick students serve breakfast to the community, let kids drive our robots, and discuss what we are learning. The fundraiser is popular, having reached over 500 people with the message of FIRST and raised over $3000 for our robotics teams.

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 strives to continue the legacy of innovation in communication. Our website contains a record of each of our meetings, links to FIRST resources, and (soon) a help section on nutrition. We continue to seek venues to demonstrate our robot’s performance and talk about FIRST and its importance.

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, and we will be displaying our robot at the store in May. Also, Canby Motors has graciously allowed us to use their storefront to build our FRC robot.
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.

FUTURE PLANS:

TechBrick members are eager to further their STEM education. Founding member Amy Ciavolino is now completing her degree in Computer Science at UMBC. Two current members just received acceptance to study engineering next year at the University of Maryland.

Absolute Zero Electricity also looks to the future. TechBrick is currently working with local community colleges to receive accreditation to award credit for students’ active participation in FRC.

CONCLUSION:

As Absolute Zero Electricity progresses through the season, we remember our history, look to our future, and never stop living out FIRST’s message. Although this is just the beginning for our team, we have already come a long way. Our potential is vast; the switch has been flipped; we will run our race well to shine FIRST and its values throughout our community, our state, and our world.

AZE’s Social Media