In the vibrant city of Boca Raton, Florida, an extraordinary team of young minds is breaking barriers and propelling the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Sponsored by Canon Solutions America, the FIRST Robotics Team #3932, aptly named the Dirty Mechanics, is marking its impressive 12th year in operation, leaving an indelible mark on the local educational landscape.
Expanding Horizons, Building Dreams
What began in 2011 as a modest team from a single school competing exclusively during seasonal robotics competitions has evolved into a dynamic force comprising students from a dozen schools across South Florida. The Dirty Mechanics have embraced diversity, including not only students from traditional high schools but also home-schooled participants.
The team’s growth is not only numerical but also cultural. Eleven dedicated volunteer mentors, possessing backgrounds in engineering and business, guide the students. This mentorship goes beyond technical expertise, encompassing the development of soft skills, increased self-confidence, and enhanced communication and leadership capabilities.
Competing with Innovation, Impacting the Community
The Dirty Mechanics actively participate in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, an annual event that challenges teams worldwide to design, build, and operate robots. Their journey extends far beyond the thrill of competition; it’s about imparting practical skills and instilling a passion for STEM disciplines.
Canon Solutions America Principal Engineer, Dave Ferguson, is among the tireless mentors working to give back to the community. He emphasizes the program’s unique approach to teaching problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and fostering a collaborative spirit. While many towns offer athletic programs, the Dirty Mechanics provide a rare avenue for students to develop skills, camaraderie, experience adrenaline, and engage in healthy competition in the realm of science and technology.
Beyond the Robot: Impacting Lives
Dirty Mechanics’ commitment to community engagement is evident in their extensive grassroots fundraising efforts. The team’s dedication extends beyond robotics, as demonstrated by their support for other teams, such as Team #179, Children of the Swamp, based in South Florida. Canon Solutions America’s sponsorship aids in funding travel, supplies, and more for this 16-time regional winning team.
The impact goes further. Children of the Swamp, besides their impressive robotics achievements, actively engages in community service. They have participated in food drives, collecting over 1,400 pounds of food, and assisted the Boca Raton Rotary Club in configuring Wi-Fi routers and extenders for local students, bringing internet access to underserved communities.
Creating Future Leaders: Success Stories
The commitment and hard work invested by both students and mentors yield impressive outcomes. The Dirty Mechanics boast a 100 percent high school graduation rate, with 97 percent continuing their education at the college level. Remarkably, 90 percent of the group is enrolled in STEM fields, showcasing the program’s efficacy in nurturing future scientists, engineers, and technologists.
Several alumni have secured positions in leading tech companies, including Canon, and 15 former members have returned to serve as mentors. This cyclical mentorship model ensures that the skills acquired, both technically and in business operations, are passed down to future generations.
Business, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship: Holistic Development
While the team excels in technical aspects, they also focus on business, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Recognizing that future leaders need a well-rounded skill set, the Dirty Mechanics emphasize the importance of business acumen. This unique approach sets them apart, preparing students not just for STEM careers but also for leadership roles in various professional settings.
From Classroom to Community: Personal Journeys
Rebecca Levy, a senior at Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton and co-captain of the Dirty Mechanics, exemplifies the personal growth facilitated by the program. Over her four-year journey, she transitioned from a safety captain to a co-captain, gaining invaluable leadership experience. Beyond robotics, Levy has utilized the team’s offseason to mentor undergraduates, ensuring a smooth transition for the team’s future leaders.
Levy’s dedication extends beyond her involvement with Dirty Mechanics. Actively pursuing summer classes at Stanford, she initiated a FIRST LEGO League program for middle schoolers. This initiative aims to introduce the next generation to robotics, echoing the team’s commitment to expanding STEM opportunities and community outreach.
Passing the Torch: Creating Opportunities for the Future
Levy’s initiative reflects the broader ethos of the Dirty Mechanics – the desire to create a lasting impact. The team’s alumni, having tasted success in their professional lives, return to mentor and guide the next generation. Their commitment to giving back is a testament to the program’s influence in shaping not only technical skills but also positive attributes that transcend the realm of robotics.