Team 226, The Hammerheads Chairman’s Essay 2016

Seventeen years ago, a group of high school students and mentors with a passion for engineering, learning, and leadership formed Team 226: The Hammerheads. Crosstown rivals on any other field, Troy and Athens High School started working together towards a common purpose. With little experience and limited resources, they set out to explore the ocean of FIRST. Over the years, we have evolved from young inexperienced pups to wise old Hammerheads, sending waves of influence around the world. The team continues to grow as our seasoned veterans inspire future generations of Hammerheads. As we reflect upon our past and present contributions, we are proud of the way Team 226 has shaped the future of FIRST, our community, and our members.

A couple years after being established, our team was looking for new ways to get involved in the FIRST program, so we began hosting Sharkfest, a FLL and Jr FLL tournament. Our team members take on various responsibilities that encompass everything from building LEGO kits to judging the competition. Additionally we hold a Jr FLL exhibition and demo our various robots for the students learning and enjoyment. The attendees have the unique opportunity to witness three of the four stages of FIRST: Jr FLL, FLL, and FRC in one place. This last Sharkfest was our tenth and most successful yet.

After the success of Sharkfest, we decided to undertake a new challenge: hosting a fully-fledged FRC qualifying tournament, the Troy District Competition. During this event our team members, students, parents, and the community come together to make the tournament the best it can be. This year, we will be hosting our seventh annual Troy District Competition. FIRST competitions are a great way to get students excited about STEM, and we are happy to be a part of this process.

After reaching out to FIRST students, we next turned our attention to the general population. We worked with several FRC teams to create a robot to throw the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park. This event, called “Robots in the D”, featured the first ever student-built robot to throw a first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. The media buzz around this event, including TV, social media, and radio interviews led to our robot sharing FIRST’s mission with over 11 million people. Our efforts inspired similar FIRST events across the country.

Today our team is more active than ever, rostering over one hundred members. To manage all of our members, we utilize an organizational structure that consists of 3 major groups: Information, Business, and Engineering. The Engineering group is a driving force on the team, as they directly fulfill the FIRST challenge. Throughout the season, they devise various strategies and designs to eventually fabricate a multi-functional robot with guidance from GM engineers. Our build group incorporates the additional challenges of Robofest and Shell Eco-Marathon. FIRST is more than just robots, and our team covers a variety of topics beyond the Engineering challenge. The Information group is the glue that holds our team together. They employ the professional task-management software Smartsheet to manage events, meetings, and team information. Additionally, they use platforms such as Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter to spread information. The Business group acts as the face of the team, representing it for both the local and FIRST community. They plan fundraising events, outreach programs, and sponsor presentations in order to connect with those around us. Additionally, the Business group works to start, mentor, and collaborate with other FIRST teams and present award submissions and team information to FIRST judges.

In addition to increasing the scope and variety of the team, our growing size also means significantly more girls are introduced to STEM. In recent years, the number of girls on our team has more than tripled. This year, thanks to their increasing numbers in our build group and drive team, we were able to participate in the Bloomfield Hills all-girls competition for a second time. Additionally, the Robofest section of our team has expanded to include an all-girls team, giving young women hands on experience that helps them compete in STEM fields.

This year, we have placed a renewed emphasis on the wellbeing of our team members. The team added new activities to help everyone feel welcome, and devoted its summer months to training new members for the coming year. It is important to us that every member that yearns to succeed is given the opportunity and materials to do so. This is a challenge given our size, yet it is one we meet with relish as our team has always held an open membership policy. As our team has grown, we have compensated for the increased size with further fundraising, which has in turn provided more opportunities for FIRST outreach. Despite our size, 100% of our members have pursued higher education, often going into STEM careers that the team has helped them discover. Many have received FIRST scholarships, internships, and job opportunities ensuring that FIRST continues to be a part of their lives as alumni of the team.

In addition to providing opportunities for our own members, we also work tirelessly to reach out to our surrounding community. We unveil our T-shirt shooting robot at school football games and parades to spread awareness of FIRST throughout our school. Media coverage of a Troy High School pep assembly increased awareness of FIRST in the Detroit Metro Area. We have worked in conjunction with other school clubs to raise money for various charities including the American Red Cross, Philippines Typhoon Relief, and the Arctic Home Campaign. At our city’s local carnival, Troy Daze, we host a booth to teach those who visit about both our team and the invaluable opportunities that can be gained from membership.

In an effort to give back to the community that has shared so much with us, we volunteer at local charities and food banks such as Gleaners Community Food Bank. Our involvement in the Summer in the City program helped clean up and improve the inner city neighborhoods. We encourage our members to be a positive influence everywhere they go by promoting 226 Acts of Kindness, where students submit their selfless acts to our website. We also have dozens of other outreach events including fundraisers, presentations, and volunteer opportunities.

In an effort to increase awareness of our program, we have moved to a more professional level as we gain corporate partners. We advertise our team and FIRST to current and prospective sponsors, gaining valuable communication skills and networking opportunities with business leaders. For example, presentations at Henkel and Siemens were not just major sponsorship opportunities for our team, but also a success in raising the awareness of these companies for the need of international support for FIRST. General Motors, a FIRST founding corporation, has been our major sponsor from our beginnings. GM not only provides us with a place to build our robot, but also supports our team with funding and engineering mentors that inspire us.

We go to local elementary schools in order to foster relationships with the younger generation and persuade them into becoming the future of FIRST. This gives us an opportunity to teach kids about science and allow them to interact with our award winning robot. During these presentations, our team members demonstrate the basics of the robot and teach Gracious Professionalism and our other core values through educational skits and other interactive activities. This type of presentation effectively spreads awareness of FIRST and exposes future Hammerheads to the opportunities in store for them.

Our elementary school presentations have expanded to include middle schools in our city, as well as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, incoming freshman and church youth groups. We even reach out to adults during our fundraising and outreach events. Through our ever growing number of outreach events, the Hammerheads work to expand our influence within our community.

Team 226 impacts all levels of the FIRST competition. Thus far, we have started 8 Jr FLL teams and over 20 FLL teams. In addition to founding teams, the Hammerheads mentor teams helping with programming, research, teamwork skills, and more. We have also founded 14 FTC teams and help to mentor many others. To assist with the transition between FLL and FTC, we created a guide that details each of the competitions and how to convert FLL teams to the next level of competition. Our guide has been distributed to teams in Michigan and has been a key factor in the creation of local FLL and FTC teams. Moreover, Team 226 has started 2 FRC teams and regularly collaborates with local teams for driver’s training, outreach events and more. By providing guidance to all of the teams we are affiliated with, we work to advance the future of FIRST.

Along with all of our local efforts, we have also worked to extend our efforts internationally. Our outreach program includes a partnership with the Ashwini Charitable Trust, which runs an after school enrichment program for underprivileged students in Bangalore, India. We spread our knowledge through various presentations, activities, and challenges and share with them the values of FIRST. In the future, we hope to use our connections to establish and mentor FIRST teams in our national and international communities.

Throughout our team’s history, we have displayed an unbridled passion for STEM and the founding principles of FIRST. We are proud to have spread these core values in our community, and we look forward to enhancing the welfare of our members and our society through science, technology, engineering, and math.