I got involved in a robotics club because my eight-year old son, Frankie, wanted to do Lego robotics. At that time, my wife drove 90 minutes south twice a week to take him to the only team that accepted home-schoolers. I was an engineer and I thought, “how hard can it be?” I told my wife that I would coach a team.
My son has since graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but I am still heavily involved in the robotics league as a coach, a referee, and general volunteer. I have coached over 350 kids through the years, and have seen the difference the club can make in their lives – with many going on to pursue careers in engineering.
One 8-year-old boy who came on the team was functionally illiterate. He wore a Mohawk, was defiant, and even brought a knife to practice. His mother was at her wit's end, afraid of the direction he was heading in. But then, with the help of the program and immersion in innovation, he became interested in building Lego robots. Because of his desire to learn more, he learned to read and even borrowed my software programming book. After four years of hard work and dedication, he became the captain of his robotics team.
Similar things occur every year when kids learn that they are valued for their ingenuity — not for their clothes or physical attributes. The robotics club intakes and welcomes a lot of “odd-ball” kids and provides an environment in which they can thrive. For all of the “odd-ball” kids out there, I would urge my fellow engineers to contribute to youth development programs.
James Carr, United States Patent and Trademark Office