As insightful as conventional high school career aptitude surveys with pen and paper can be — hands-on, real world experience is instrumental in shaping capable young minds. Add high stakes adrenaline and stiff competition to the equation, and FRC Flash 1319 Robotics Team emerges as a fusion between the three. This FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team hails from Greenville, SC and competes in state and national level field games under the adept guidance of mentor and aeSolutions SIS FEL Specialist, Erich Zende. We conducted an informal interview with Erich at the close of the team’s regular season to discern a better understanding of the year-round volunteer effort he lends so much of himself to.
aeSolutions: What is your role on the FRC Flash 1319 team?
Erich Zende: I am the Lead Mechanical Design Mentor and Drive Team Coach for the robotics team. I lead the students through the design, prototype, and build phases during a six-week build season, and I also advise students on the safe use of tools and other safety procedures.
aeSolutions: The advisory role concerning proper tool usage and safety procedures makes sense, given that safety is one of the fundamentals that embodies the spirit of aeSolutions. How much of your personal resources (time, money, energy) do you invest per season?
Erich Zende: During the build season I meet with the students for roughly 30 hours a week, for six weeks, and during the weeks leading up to the competitions I meet with students somewhere between 20-30 hours. The majority of this time is spent practicing with a prototype robot along with packing spares and tools for the competition, as well as going over the presentations prepared by students for the judged technical awards at completion. Typically, FRC Flash 1319 competes at 2 or 3 select events. In total, I contribute an overall average of 250 hours give or take. In order to mentor to my fullest ability, I contribute 8-10 days of my time- off-with-pay, my hotel rooms expenses, occasional robot parts, and a trailer to transport the team’s robot.
aeSolutions: It goes without saying that you volunteer in multiple capacities. In regards to the season ending though, what does the “off-season” look like when the team isn’t gearing up for the building phase and qualifier competitions?
Erich Zende: In the time period that we refer to as the “off-season,” I focus my time on recruiting and training new members. In regards to a combined effort, the team attends outreach events in addition to hosting several Lego League tournaments for the younger students interested in S.T.E.M. activities. Recently we hosted an event with one of our sponsors, the Synnex Corporation, to put on a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Girls Night Out. This was a Makerspace event created to inspire, empower and engage girls in grades 3rd to 8th in Greenville County. The goal was to help foster young girls’ appreciation for STEAM and raise STEAM awareness among parents. The event boasted an overall attendance exceeding 350 students. Aside from requested team demonstrations at Roper Mountain Science Center, we also take part in the IMAGINE Upstate Annual Festival; which showcases pre-K through 12th grade education and STEAM career pathways centered on having fun and hands-on learning.
aeSolutions: Given what you’ve told me, the season isn’t necessarily limited to building and competing for a span of a few months but rather it’s a year-round effort of recruiting, team building and spreading awareness. It’s clear what you give to the program and the impact you have on the malleable futures of these students, but what do you get out of this exactly? What keeps you coming back year after year?
Erich Zende: There are many reasons why I continue to mentor. Although challenging for a variety of reasons, the rewards generally make it all a worthwhile endeavor each and every year. Speaking of years, this will be my 16th year as a mentor and 20th year participating in FIRST Robotics. To be more specific: I mentor because others mentored me. I mentor to hopefully aid and impact future generations of students who will be contributing members of our society. I learn something new every year, and I enjoy the competitive experience. I mentor because the robotics team is a creative outlet outside of my day job. And truly, I mentor because I yearn for my daughter to have a long-standing and well-developed STEM program to be a part of when she is older.
aeSolutions: Well said. Special thanks to Erich Zende for the continued efforts and contributions to this FIRST Robotics team. You have not only gone above and beyond for the robotics team, but you have also created a praiseworthy legacy that speaks to the very core of this company.
For more information on FIRST Robotics visit https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/what-is-first-robotics-competition
To keep up with Erich Zende and the FRC Flash 1319, visit the team website: http://frcflash1319.wixsite.com/flash1319
Or follow them on social media: https://www.facebook.com/pg/FRCFlash1319