Martin Engineering Co-Sponsors FIRST Robotics Teams

For the second straight year, a global leader in bulk material handling technology is co-sponsoring two teams of high school students dedicated to building highly-functional robots, helping aspiring inventors and engineers continue their participation in the FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competitions. Martin Engineering is providing its support to a Kewanee High School team as well as a group of students from Notre Dame High School and Quest Charter Academy in Peoria.

The Kewanee team has competed in both a state tournament in Chicago and a regional event in Davenport, IA. The group will be seeking its first championship in 2015. In addition to the engineering professional who volunteers as a mentor, Martin Engineering has assisted in the construction of a 1:1 scale “playing field” for testing the students’ robot, which duplicates the surface on which the actual competitions will take place.

Team Icarus from Peoria has already experienced its share of success, winning the 2012 Boilermaker Regional, then earning the Engineering Inspiration Award at the 2013 Crossroads Regional and the Engineering Excellence Award at the 2014 Wisconsin Regional. The team also won an Engineering Inspiration Award at the Milwaukee Regional, and has competed in the 2014 National Championships in St. Louis, the entry fee for which was paid by NASA for teams having won an Engineering Inspiration award.

FIRST was founded in 1989 by entrepreneur Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway), who wanted to find a way to inspire young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), contributing to both their knowledge and life skills. “Kamen realized that we had a shortage of engineers in this country,” commented Team Icarus mentor Paul Harrison. “He wanted to create a unique way to help renew interest and foster respect for STEM. So he came up with the idea of making it a competition, like a sporting event, and people seem to love that approach.”

“The competitions are specifically set up to encourage teamwork and interaction between people and groups with different strengths,” said team member John Nogaj. “Every team’s objective is the same: engineering and building a robot to perform specific tasks for each competition. We get just six weeks to complete our designs, which must be built from a common kit of parts supplied by FIRST.”

Now in his third year as a robotics team advisor and coach, Harrison has a unique view of the organization and the competitions. As a professional engineer and Global Engineering Manager for Martin Engineering, he donates hundreds of hours each year to the effort. “I feel lucky to have been able to get a good education, and I love working as an engineer,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to share that love of science and technology, and it’s one small way we can give back to our communities, helping young people see how exciting these fields can be.”

It’s also a way to help encourage strong interpersonal values and empathy for others. For example, the winning team at the 2014 national competition sponsors a build-your-own-robot day for underprivileged children, and many participants also volunteer at local soup kitchens or other organizations. “These are young people engaged in active learning that is a lot of fun, but at the same time they’re developing a healthy sense of compassion, looking for creative ways to help make the world a better place,” Harrison added.

“With the support of local and international businesses like Martin Engineering, high school students have been exposed to a wide variety of new educational experiences,” said team mentor Daniel Marshall. “They’ve been able to participate and succeed in activities that prepare them for a rewarding career of the future.”

The stated mission of FIRST is to encourage young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that develop their skills and understanding, fostering innovation, self-confidence, communication and leadership. The organization has also raised more than $19 million for nearly 900 college scholarships to be awarded in 2014.

From its modest beginnings in 1992, with just 28 teams in a New Hampshire high school gymnasium, the program now involves nearly half a million people worldwide, with 350,000+ students and more than 100,000 mentors advising 32,600 teams. The teams compete at 54 regional events, including 40 district competitions and 4 qualifying events, culminating in the annual championship.

“It’s impressive to see the designs these teams come up with, and to watch the robots complete high-level tasks,” observed Harrison. “This is our next generation of scientists and engineers, and we’ll be depending on them to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems. We need our students to be prepared and motivated, and this competition helps do both. They really enjoy acquiring these important skills and experience.”

Martin Engineering joins Dust Control Technology, John Deere and Advanced Technology Services with its support of the Illinois teams. The list of FIRST sponsors reads like a Who’s Who of engineering and technology companies, including NASA, Boeing, United Technologies, General Motors and Google, to name a few. For more information, visit

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