Long established FIRST Robotics teams in Flint are being given the opportunity to give back through their new unique setup at the FIRST Robotics Community Center (FRCC) on Kettering University’s campus.
The FRCC opened in September 2014 and the Kettering-sponsored Team 1506 Metal Muscle moved a short distance across campus to their new home.
“We’re used to this,” said John Wolfert, Mentor for Metal Muscle. “We’ve been on campus for the past 11 years.”
Metal Muscle has 16 active students from Genesee, Oakland and Lapeer Counties, including students from Flint Southwestern, area Christian and home schools.
Veteran teams Metal Muscle (top) and Powers Catholic (bottom right) have helped mentor new teams like Atherton (bottom left).
Team 894 Chargers from Powers Catholic High School moved from their old shop, previously located in a house adjacent to the new high school off of Miller Road in Flint, into the FRCC in December 2014.
“The space and equipment are great. We have more and better equipment than we had before,” said Paul Gillie, mentor for the Chargers. “Being able to talk with other teams as we are doing things is a real benefit as well.”
Wolfert sees two primary uses for the FRCC for area teams - building a foundation and helping existing teams achieve sustainability.
“There’s two reasons for this space - one is for rookie teams to get started, to help them get established and get the right foundation built,” Wolfert said. “The other purpose is to provide opportunities for teams that lose their space or don’t have a permanent place to work. So it’s matter of sustainability for those teams.”
Having established their foundations in their new home on Kettering’s campus, Metal Muscle and the Chargers are paying it forward by helping new area teams build their programs.
In January 2015, Atherton High School and International Academy of Flint both moved into two of the eight available spots in the FRCC. In addition to the state-of-the-art facility, each of the teams were inspired by the potential for relationships with existing teams in the FRCC.
“They wanted to come here and get help,” Wolfert said. “Initially, we took last year’s robot and showed it to the students to get them excited. We invited them to use our space. If they need parts, we help by providing them with parts.”
The availability of assistance in the FRCC can also foster new ideas and techniques as teams construct their robots for upcoming competitions in 2015. Even a veteran group like Powers is enjoying the intimacy that the FRCC is creating between teams as it is enhancing the collective knowledge base and robotics experience of Flint-area teams.
“It’s really no different than any mentor that you would have in high school,” Gillie said. “There’s a place to go. There are people you can go to.”
FIRST Robotics competitions are unique in that they are simultaneously collaborative and competitive which creates opportunities for exploration and experimentation at the FRCC. Each of the Flint-area teams housed on Kettering’s campus are striving to win while also rooting for their colleagues in the FRCC.
“Everyone wants to be as successful as everyone else,” Gillie said. “We aren’t here to work against someone. We’re here to work and succeed together.”