Cisco Canada is always excited when Canadian youth are involved in science, technology and engineering – so we went ahead and added an incentive. Cisco Canada recently had the pleasure of supporting the 2013 For Inspirational and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics competition in the amount of $25,000. This investment allowed us to make connections with, the Miller twins, winners of the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Entrepreneurship Award and the Chairman’s Award, here is what they had to say:
When we were asked to co-captain the Business side of our school’s FIRST Robotics team almost four years ago, we had no idea just how many open doors and opportunities the role would bring us in the years to follow. From learning how to write a business plan, to gaining experience managing a team, our time in FIRST Robotics was truly a special, one-of-a-kind learning experience.
For those who may not know, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is a worldwide, high school robotics competition organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Each year, robotics teams consisting of students from grades 9-10 build robots from a standard set of parts, with the aim of creating a robot that can play the game featured at the competition that year. From experience, we can tell you that the competitions themselves are incredibly lively – closely resembling sports events in their excitement and energy.
Indeed, there is no doubt that the FRC program is a fun and exciting way for students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to explore their passions in science and engineering, meeting incredible people and picking up valuable skills along the way.
As two young ladies who have always had a strong interest in STEM, it was only a matter of time before we, got involved in our school’s robotics program. Despite our love of STEM and interest in engineering; it wasn’t the programming or mechanical sub-groups of the team we thought to join. In fact, it was the business aspect of our all-girls team, SWAT 771, which caught our interests.
We began participating as part of “Business for Robotics”, led by our school’s Economics teacher, early in our high school career. After a year, when she decided to step down, we were elected to take over as the first student leaders of a now student-run club. We had never run a club before and knew we had a lot to learn, but we were eager to somehow make a dent in our high school and were interested in the fusion of STEM, robotics and business.
We took the team into our own hands, starting with innovating the previous business plan. This business plan, which is compiled each year by all members of the business team, is based on both the robot and team, and is entered at various competitions. The objective is to outline all aspects of your team in a concise and effective manner, from your marketing strategy to your financial statements. Of course, there is always room for creativity, and it is here where we chose to excel. Using as many resources as possible and after much research, we decided to go far beyond the basics – including everything from an analysis of the current robotics industry to a competition matrix in our business plan.
With our team of four other girls, we managed to win the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Entrepreneurship Award in our first year at GTR West and three more times in the competitions to follow at locations including New York and Calgary. Last year, our entire team was also fortunate enough to win the prestigious Chairman’s Award, the highest honor given at the FIRST Robotics Competitions. After much hard work and having made these great achievements, our team was understandably overjoyed, and motivated to do even better in the seasons to come. Even the two of us, after having graduated and thus passing on our captaincy to two very capable young ladies, are encouraged to see SWAT 771’s business team continue to innovate and exceed expectations.
Such an enriching, skill-building experience undoubtedly brought us a wealth of knowledge and opportunities. Not only did we learn about business plans, marketing, finance and the robotics industry, but we also had the experience of managing a team and working with inspirational mentors from the business world. As part of our role, we also gained experience making sponsorship proposals to potential sponsors – traveling to companies like HATCH to deliver presentations we had prepared.
Our mentors truly helped us with this task, and through one of them in particular –Mauricio Beltran, Project Manager at Cisco – we managed to establish an agreement with Cisco, where the company would sponsor all of the all-girls teams in the country. Indeed, of all our responsibilities as Business captains, we realized that encouraging young women to participate in STEM was one of the most important – and we were sure to act as advocates for women in STEM all throughout our tenure.
Fortunately for us, our connection with Cisco did not stop there. After having jointly received the Cisco FIRST Robotics Scholarship from the University of Toronto for our contributions to robotics, we reached out to Mr. Beltran, and managed to organize a month-long internship at the company. So far, we have truly enjoyed the many experiences and learning opportunities we have encountered at Cisco. From exploring Cisco’s incredible technology to interacting with inspirational mentors – our time at the company has been both exciting and valuable, and we look forward to keeping connected in the coming years.
For now, we both look forward to starting Materials Engineering at U of T in the fall. While we are keeping our options open, we hope to specialize in Nanotechnology, and continue to explore the powerful fusion of entrepreneurship and engineering. Looking back, we realize it was our involvement in FIRST Robotics that helped spark these interests – and for this, we will always be grateful to this inspirational program. To learn more about the FIRST Robotics program please visit the FIRST Robotics Canada website here.
Authors: Jessica Miller and Melanie Miller