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How FIRST Changed Me For The Better. It Can Change You, Too

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Sometimes you just know there’s something you’re meant to do.

I’m a mechanical engineer. When I transferred cities I was looking for a way to connect locally, and was invited to a FIRST meeting at a local high school.

That was six years ago. Since that evening, I have spent a shocking number of hours mentoring the FIRST teams. Have I changed them? Maybe. Have they changed me, made me a better engineer? Definitely.

Without mentors many kids on these teams will succeed – but many will not. As mentors, we might be the first professionals – engineers, builders and designers – in their lives.  

As much role model as mentor, sometimes we’re silent on the sidelines and other times we’re in the middle of the fray, cheering louder than anyone in the stands.

It’s Not Words. It’s Action.

I can’t put into words exactly how it feels to spend late evenings with teams imagining, designing, building, fixing, trying and trying again.

But let me tell you what I’ve seen.

The school where I volunteer is bursting with brilliant kids. They have the skills and aptitude to become some of the world’s finest engineers and scientists, makers and creators. But what they don’t always have is support – someone who can open doors and open their eyes to opportunities.

Some students spend hours on public transit and they do it without fail because they are part of something bigger. Someone believes in their future so they do, too. If mentors are not waiting at school for them, it’s easy to say “Not today.”

And that’s how we lose them.

I’ve now worked with hundreds of students, each special and unique — like Javion (you can see his story in the video in this blog).

Javion is bright, engaged and curious. He started in one area – the robot programming sub-team – and the next year jumped out of his comfort zone and dove into mechanical design, expanding skills, challenging himself, asking questions and never resting until he found the answers.

In high school he already had all the makings of an engineer.  So when I found out about an engineering internship for high school students, I encouraged him to apply. 

He got this opportunity because he was on the FIRST team. It will inform his entire professional life. I know meeting him changed mine.

A huge part of mentoring is sharing yourself. Anything and everything you can give, influences their future.

And yours.

A Future That Matters

I said earlier I was a better engineer because of the experience. Just one example: A career hazard is over-thinking. Engineers are problem-solvers and sometimes that means we reiterate way too much. 

I’ve watched these students go from problem to solution in just a few steps because they cut through the brain clutter and see an issue with a new perspective.

I’ve applied that at work. Just stepping back creates a clearer view.

Join the effort. You’re not just mentoring a future engineer, creator, designer or inventor.

You are creating a path for a future that will matter.

Emily Ralph
Emily Ralph
Hardware Engineer, Rockwell Automation
Emily Ralph

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