This year, Team 2130 Alpha+ proudly celebrates our FIRST decade. We have proven that “from small beginnings come great things,” emerging from relative obscurity into a team committed to transforming culture. We inspire our local youth to be STEM leaders of the 21st century by overcoming barriers, gaining real-world skills and embracing the FIRST mission.
At the start of our rookie year, the idea of a robotics team in our small logging and farming community was unthinkable. With its high poverty and unemployment and low graduation rate, Bonners Ferry, Idaho did not scream “successful robotics team.” However, with a belief in the impossible, our team fought its way out of a science teacher’s closet, transforming a classroom into a robot-building oasis. We received the Rookie Inspiration Award, sparking something eye-opening and introducing a new realm of FIRST opportunities.
In 2010, we overcame the odds, earning our first opportunity to attend the World Championship. That year, we extended our FIRST outreach 90 miles south to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Our robotics presentation and multiple workshops inspired the creation of FRC Teams 3513, 2865 and 3145. Our collaborative friendships continue to thrive.
In 2012, we again advanced to the World Championship, having received the Engineering Inspiration Award and Innovation in Control Award. In 2013, we again received the Engineering Inspiration Award, and our lead mentor earned the Woodie Flowers Award. We took our third trip to Worlds. In 2014 and 2015, we attended the Western Canada Regional. We were honored with the 2015 Entrepreneurship Award and named regional winners, a monumental accomplishment marking our 4th World Championship appearance.
Inspiring Our Students to New Heights
Today, Alpha+ is a diverse group of 21 students, 24% of whom are female. We have Eagle Scouts, athletes, band members, foreign exchange students, homeschooled kids; together we make up Alpha+. Many members have grown up together, fostering a family environment. In fact, we have had 24 siblings on the team! Alumni often return to attend kickoffs and assist with strategizing. A defining moment in our team experience was when two of our alumni married, marking our first robo-wedding, and it all began with Alpha+!
Our team also transforms lives, broadens our horizons and offers new opportunities. Many team members have never left the country, even though we are only 30 miles from the Canadian border. Some have never flown on an airplane. Traveling to competitions opens doors for students to experience cultural and historical sites and meet people from all over the world who speak the universal language–STEM. Alumni have received scholarships (Case Western, U of Portland), internships (Schweitzer Engineering) and employment (Quest Aircraft, Cerner) due to their involvement in FIRST.
A key component of our team is our student-mentor partnership. Our 12 mentors embody the individualism and diverse skill set that help guide Alpha+. Their occupations range from teachers to a railroad signal inspector, sharing their vast knowledge and real-world skills with the team. Our team’s founder has earned numerous awards for his outstanding FIRST/STEM outreach. Over half of the mentors from our rookie year are still actively involved with our team. At age 85, “Grandpa Jim,” still fabricates robot parts! We have very close relationships with our mentors, and we learn much from each other. As awareness of FIRST increases, we are happily seeing a rise in the number of new mentors.
Alpha+ is passionate about FIRST! Last year, we launched a campaign to recruit new members. We wrote letters to students, gave presentations and submitted articles to the school paper. The art class painted a large Alpha+ logo outside a science classroom and we created a FIRST hallway bulletin board. Our efforts resulted in increased membership!
At the middle school, Alpha+ provided startup funding and a practice table for FLL Team 14910 Omega. Four team members mentored Omega throughout their season. They advanced to the State Championship, and we partnered with them to raise funds for their trip. With our assistance, Omega started another FLL team, 16096 Alpha’Bots. Mentoring both teams has fostered relationships and self-confidence.
Our team’s past STEM outreach continues to affect our team today. One member states, “In 1st grade, I saw Alpha+ demonstrate their robot and immediately wanted to join the team.” Another team member credits his 6th grade participation at an Alpha+ robotics workshop as the reason he couldn’t wait to join.
We have assisted other Idaho FIRST teams by hosting two programming workshops. After a former mentor relocated, he took FIRST with him and started FTC Team 10549. We helped them with registration, strategic planning and general logistics.
Gracious Professionalism is a top priority for our team. At competitions, we strive to help other teams make it through inspection. Last year, Team 5597, RoboMaidens, arrived with only a non-functioning chassis. Our students and mentors went to work and 36 hours later, their robot was running. They passed inspection and rolled onto the playing field for their first match.
Inspiring Our School Community To Give
Thanks in part to FIRST, we are truly witnessing a paradigm shift in our school system. In 2012, our school district graciously granted us workspace, significantly aiding our robotics program. Hard work transformed it into our clubhouse. Since then, support has grown. We now have the enthusiastic backing of our school administration. Two years ago, school board members approved a high school robotics class. Last year, for the first time, they paid our championship registration fee and provided bus transportation to the airport. They also approved a stipend for our lead mentor, comparable to that of a sports coach. This year, students are receiving engineering class credit for their CAD robot designs. In his welcoming address, our superintendent characterized our robotics program as the school district’s “shining star.”
STEM is now gaining more ground at the Idaho legislative level, thanks in part to FIRST. Alpha+ was invited to the Idaho Senate and House Education Committees, where we demonstrated our robot and promoted STEM. We also kicked off our governor’s local campaign; our robot handed the First Lady a rose. The collective presence of all Idaho teams has brought FIRST awareness, contributing partly to the creation of the STEM Action Center in Boise, the first Idaho FRC Regional, and more overall funding being allocated toward STEM education.
Inspiring Industry and Our Community to Believe
Alpha+ greatly appreciates our 14 major sponsors and over 85 additional donors, all embracing the FIRST mission. Several sponsors have been with us from inception, and most–notably Autodesk, Ripley Comegys and Discover Technology–have donated consistently since their first sponsorship year. We have close relationships with most of our sponsors. Many have become involved with the team on various levels. To show our appreciation, we honor sponsors at our Open House and feature their logos on our robots, shirts and clubhouse wall. We send team updates and personalized thank you cards. We also appreciate other sponsors’ in-kind donations of computers, materials, fabrication and meals.
Alpha+ makes every effort to promote FIRST and STEM locally. Partnering with FLL Team Omega, we hosted a luncheon for 30 local Rotary Club members. Each team gave a presentation and robot demonstration. We invite our community to our annual Open House to visit our shop and learn about FIRST. This summer, we enjoyed giving private tours to a visiting sponsor as well as the Class of 1985. We also attend our County Fair and Farmers Market, giving the public–especially children–the opportunity to interact with our robots. We submit articles for our local newspaper and regularly update our Facebook page. We have been featured in several magazine articles and have appeared on our local TV station.
Community service allows us to give back and make a difference. Alpha+ organized a roadside clean-up, participated in the Hospital Fun Run and were volunteers for our school’s Harvest Night for Kids. In response to the cancellation of our community’s annual food drive, our team took the initiative and coordinated our own “Bots and Boxes” food drive. The event was well received and is now part of our annual service efforts.
Alpha+ is making an impact on local industry. Inspired by last year’s robot and its design, one local farmer built a hay bale lifter and transporter for his farm. Businesses are also hiring our students based on their technology skills gained through robotics.
Inspiring FIRST and STEM to Inspire the World
As we reflect on the last 10 years, we look to the future to see how we can continue to inspire. Our highest priority is to embrace Dean’s Homework by emphasizing STEM in our elementary schools through science fair demonstrations and starting at least one local FLL Jr. Team. Another goal is to implement our Community Involvement Plan, which includes introducing FIRST to our new mayor and local officials, and offering a senior citizen’s technology class. We would also like to be recognized as a co-curricular activity and earn varsity letters. Finally, we plan to revise our team handbook, continue to recruit new students and mentors, and seek additional sponsors and grant opportunities.
Alpha+ inspires the inclusion of FIRST and STEM wherever we go. We inspire our students academically, technologically and personally. We build school spirit and credibility. We inspire our community, parents and mentors through mutual support and cooperation. We build a sense of pride and commitment to education. We inspire our sponsors to connect with young and budding engineers. We build tomorrow’s leaders. Because we build more than robots, we inspire the world.