Ellen Green signed up for her high school robotics team because she’s competitive and likes to be involved – not because she was looking for a career.
But Green fell in love with industrial engineering while leading Notre Dame (Pontiac) Prep’s team to success and championships in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competitions.
A recent University of Michigan graduate, Green completed a successful internship with Consumers Energy while going to school in Ann Arbor. She now works at Midland-based Dow Chemical as an industrial engineer—a career path she never envisioned for herself before her FIRST Robotics experiences.
“I’ve developed through FIRST a really good ability to learn how to advocate for yourself in a group of people who you think are smarter than you,” she says.
We support FIRST Robotics—which held its national championship in Detroit in 2018 in the first year of a three-year contract—because it creates interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields among Michigan students like Green. In 2018, our foundation contributed more than $450,000 for FIRST Robotics teams at elementary, middle and high school levels across the state.
In 2018, our President and CEO Patti Poppe and Roger Curtis, vice president of public affairs, co-chaired the steering committee of the FIRST Championship in Detroit.
The competition, which drew 40,000 people from 40 countries, returns to Detroit in April.
“It’s like a Super Bowl,” says Monique Wells, our senior consultant and STEM and robotics programming lead for Consumers Energy.
Wells has two young daughters in robotics “feeder leagues” and has been an important mentor for Green.
“You’re giving your kid such a rich experience of being involved in something and being invested in something,” she said. “They develop these relationships, and these relationships become an expectation. They think, ‘I’m going to dig in, I’m going to work hard, but we’re going to have fun.’”
We are passionate about FIRST Robotics because the state needs employees with the skills robotics competitions teach—from manufacturing and engineering to marketing and communications.
“FIRST is great for students because it engages them outside the traditional classroom setting,” Curtis said. “It allows them to apply their classroom learning into a fun, real-world project. Even if FIRST participants don’t end up in a STEM career, they’re going to be more successful because they’re learning great job and life skills such as teamwork, communication, and critical thinking.”
FIRST Robotics offers hands-on, real-world experience that is lacking in a traditional classroom setting.
“You were competing with the full-fledged engineers,” Green said. “They were not going to mince words or worry about your feelings if the idea wasn’t technically sound. I think it’s given me an advantage in my career to know how to approach a problem for a problem’s sake.”
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