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FIRST Robotics is the world's leading nonprofit advancing STEM education among students in 100+ countries. As a FIRST sponsor, our aim is to inspire students to become innovators, leaders and problem solvers.
By Edgar Sandoval, Contributor | Posted: August 7, 2020 | Revised: March 28, 2022
Madeline Lund knew from a young age she wanted to follow in her older brother’s footsteps and join a First® Robotics program. An incoming senior at Oswego High School, she watched his team place fourth at the World Championship robotics competition and it solidified her passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“You have the opportunity to learn new things and see what you like, all while making friends. STEM gives students the opportunity to expand your horizons. There is always something to discover, and that’s the beauty of it,” Madeline said.
Madeline is just one of the students on Gear it Forward 2338, a FIRST team sponsored by Caterpillar’s medium wheel loader (MWL) and large wheel loader (LWL) product groups. The team, comprised of students from Oswego High School and Oswego East High School, has been making its mark in both science and technology and the local community.
Caterpillar has sponsored FIRST for many years, but it’s the passion of the young people involved that drives the success of the organization. It aims to inspire students to become leaders in science and technology.
“The excitement and enthusiasm the students have for FIRST is contagious,” said Royce Leaders an Engineering Specialist for Medium Wheel Loader Performance & Controls.
Royce is the Caterpillar Aurora FIRST Robotics Sponsorship Coordinator and is one of many Caterpillar employees that serve as mentors for FIRST students around the world. With more than 660,000 students in more than 100 countries, FIRST uses mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills to inspire innovation and foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication and leadership.
“It directly affects the way I approach my job at Caterpillar, Royce said. The rate at which these students are learning and growing is clearly visible. The growth you see is the reason to come back for more.”
In 2020, 4,000 teams made up of more than 100,000 students, from 35 countries constructed robots and participated in a worldwide robotics competition. While this objective is a primary focus of FIRST students, there is also a high emphasis on spreading the message of STEM.
“From talking to people about robotics in our daily life, we grew to understand that most people believed they couldn’t join for various reasons. Gear it Forward 2338 needed to show that STEM is for everyone,” Madeline said.
Recognizing the opportunity for national awareness, the team members partnered with their mentors and a team alum to create and present a proposal to support STEM education to U.S. Congressman Bill Foster. As a result, the entire FIRST lobbyist machine from Washington D.C. is engaged and House Resolution #942 is now circulating through U.S. Congress. If approved, the third Friday of every March will be designated as ‘National FIRST Robotics Day’.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the same Gear it Forward 2338 team decided to apply their leadership skills and technical abilities to give back to their local community. The team found a design for a mask buckle, which allows medical professionals to wear face masks comfortably for extended periods of time.
“This went deeper than just a project for a robotics team. It was an opportunity to bring STEM to our community,” said Madeline.
Utilizing their home 3D printers, the team has printed and distributed more than 6,000 mask buckles to Chicago area medical facilities.
“Caterpillar is the founding sponsor of Gear it Forward 2338 and has helped our team continue to grow. The skills they share lead our alumni into careers in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Project Management – just to name a few. We are able to accomplish our many goals throughout the season due to the mentors provided by Caterpillar,” said Madeline.
It’s important to remember that even in challenging times, there are bright spots of hope. These students are rising to the occasion to not only invest in science and technology but also help their local community. Together, we can and are building a better world.
Editor’s note: The videos and photos shown here were captured before the COVID-19 pandemic. Caterpillar follows stringent measures – including wearing masks and social distancing – to continue working safely. Visit our COVID-19 Resource Center for more information.
Gear it Forward 2338 team photo
U.S. Congressman Bill Foster with a team member sharing House Resolution #942
One of the more than 6,000 mask buckles the team printed and distributed to Chicago area medical facilities.
The Caterpillar Foundation understands the importance of equipping individuals and communities with the skills, resources and services they need to thrive in our changing world. Investments in workforce readiness and STEM aim to create human infrastructure through an empowered, prepared and skilled workforce.
When he’s not creating content to highlight our sponsorship partners, Edgar is coaching soccer or telling jokes at comedy clubs around the country. He started here after spending time in Hollywood and working for four network television affiliates. Edgar loves telling stories about the people, products and services that make Caterpillar great!
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