February 13, 2015

CM Life

Sydney Grewe has been building robots for the better part of a decade.

After building throughout high school, the Capac junior is now giving back to the program that got her started. She serves as mentor for the Flat Mountain Mechanics team, as they prepare for a national competition.

Grewe has been working for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology program, which hosts the team's competition, for seven years; two as a mentor and five as a team member.

“Helping kids gain confidence and succeed is my favorite part of FIRST,” she said. “It is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”

The students from nearby high schools learn mechanical, electrical, engineering and business skills while preparing to compete in the competition.

The FIRST Robotics Competition allows teams from around the world to compete against each other with robots they built. The students create submitted material and mentors help to guide them through the process.

"(The goal of the program is) to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes,” said Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics.

FIRST Robotics offers $17 million in scholarships exclusively to students in the program through its annual competitions. Although Central Michigan University doesn’t offer any exclusive scholarships to FIRST students, Grewe is trying to change that. Her goal is to eventually prepare a presentation for the Board of Trustees.

The Flat Mountain Mechanics team was created by Eric Prewett, co-owner of Michael Engineering and Rook Metering, local engineering and manufacturing company and workshop that hosts the team's build sessions.

“As an engineer, I learned a lot of stuff hands-on," Prewett said. "Sometimes academics can be divorced from the hands-on aspect of engineering, this program brings the two together.”

This year’s competition game, Recycled Rush, requires students to create a robot that can stack totes on top of each other, cap those totes with recycling containers, and place pool noodles, serving as litter, in the totes. Teams have from Feb. 3 to Feb. 27 to build robots.

Members must submit a business plan and a presentation documenting their public outreach. Each team member must participate in the technical aspect of the program, as well as the business aspect.

Debra Schafer, lead business mentor, stressed the importance of clear speaking and public presentation to the students.

“The kids can give a presentation and share," she said. "When we started they could not do that."

The team is always looking for new members and mentors. No matter what your skill set is, there is room for anyone in FIRST, Schafer said.

Learning technical aspects, coupled with the business aspects, is intended to prepare students for future careers.

The team has more female members than male members and featured an all-female drive team last year, unusual of other FIRST teams.

“Don’t be afraid of what people will think. It’s such a great experience,” Grewe said. “I learned many news skills, including using power tools.”

The team’s first district event is at Waterford Mott High School in Waterford, March 6 and 7.

Its second district event is at H. H. Dow High School in Midland, March 19-21. Specific competition start times can be found on the FIRST Michigan website.