By Debbie McNally, Class of 2018, Electrical and Computer Engineering, David Crawford School of Engineering
Stepping out of the cold December day and into Shapiro Field House opens up a scene different from the usual. Rather than being filled with the sights and sounds of various sports, LEGO Robotics consume you. It’s the day of the Vermont State Championship for FIRST LEGO League, and teams of elementary and middle schoolers from across the state have gathered to show off a year’s worth of hard work. There’s cheering and yelling from one side as spectators watch robots carefully execute autonomous programs, while tables lining the perimeter are filled with nervous teams making final adjustments. It may not yet be their time on the game table, but certain volunteers have already heard all about the build up to this final moment.
While the robot games take place downstairs, the volunteer judges are sequestered away and talking about the sessions they hosted earlier that morning. From Robot Design, Project, and Core Values, the judges have been able to take a glimpse into every stage these teams have experienced in preparation for the championship. It’s a daunting task for any judge to make a decision on the winner, but especially for the students who have volunteered for this position. Only a few years removed from their own experiences with FIRST, they bring an excitement into finally being a part of what goes on behind the scenes. They understand the importance of the awards, and have experienced the long hours of hard work it takes to reach this point. They carefully debate each and every team, with judging pairs vying to ensure the teams they saw get the awards they deserve.
For those volunteers new to FIRST, there is a wide-eyed excitement and sense of awe. Earlier in the day, teams of children discussed designs of their programming and expertly explained their gear ratios, while then talking about the potential impact urban development can have on animal habitats. It’s unexpected to hear these topics being mentioned by teams who can barely see over the podiums in front of them, but there is nothing but respect from the volunteers. It’s a respect for the subject matter, the effort, and the experience in topics far beyond the teams’ years. Whether it’s in a judging room or simply on the main floor, the teams want to share what they have learned and there is no more eager set of ears than the student volunteers.
In every aspect of the day, a Norwich student volunteer can be found, most often with a smiling face. They have gotten to play an important role in making sure this event goes off without a hitch, and yet again it is another successful year. As part of the tradition of FIRST, the championship closes with a high-five line, although it is not just the teams who take a chance to run through. The volunteers run by and high-five the new friends they have made throughout the day, while also making sure the teams they met get their well-deserved congratulations. Though the volunteers may not walk away with the same prizes as the teams, they have still been rewarded with some very important lessons from the day. They have been able to offer the teams their wisdom and the hope of what can be accomplished, as well as a reassuring and encouraging face. Though the student volunteers may be “grown-ups” to the teams, their inner child has been inspired by seeing just what can be done with a few sets of LEGO and some hard work.