Q/A with Gail Alpert, president of FIRST in Michigan

It is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. Many of these new roles will be related to STEM, so it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is a program that does just that. Its mission is to inspire young people to become science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs and competitions. These events challenge students to raise funds, design a brand, hone teamwork skills and build and program industrial-size robots that play difficult field games against like-minded program_gail_alpert.jpgcompetitors. According to FIRST, this is as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.

To learn more about this innovative program, the Macomb Business blog sat down with Gail Alpert, president of FIRST in Michigan, for a Q and A.

Q1: Business and government leaders here in Michigan are very much invested in workforce development and building the next generation of talent. FIRST Robotics and FIRST programming can be an important part of that process. Why is that the case?

A: FIRST is designed to entice high schools students to choose a career in engineering, technology and the skilled trades through the building of a robot with the help of industry mentors from sponsoring companies. Students have the chance to see the tremendous capabilities of their mentors and follow in their footsteps, while the mentors can hand pick the students that best fit their companies for internships and jobs early on, long before the students are recruited by other companies.

Q2: In addition to STEM skills, many FIRST Robotics students develop confidence and communication abilities. How does FIRST programming help young people in this capacity and why should that matter to businesses?

A: There is no better tool in the student’s tool box than learning how to communicate in an effective, concise way. You can have the best product in the world, but if you cannot articulate why it’s the best, or why it’s needed, it means nothing. FIRST students not only compete with their robots, but are interviewed by a group of Judges about their robot and their team as part of the competition.  They are extremely well spoken and confident after participating in FIRST.

Q3: With these sentiments in mind, why should businesses get involved with FIRST Robotics and how can they do so? And to clarify, can businesses without a STEM-focus help as well?

A: All types of companies are and can be involved in FIRST, because all companies can play a vital role on a FIRST team even if they don’t have a STEM focus. Each team functions like a small business taking a product from inception to market.  Aside from designing, building and fabricating the robot, the teams have to do marketing, fundraising, budgeting and outreach.  All companies have some type of expertise that teams can use. Additionally, companies use FIRST to identify leaders and develop leadership skills among their current workforce.

Getting involved is easy. Simply contact me at Gail.Alpert@gmail.com. The busy season for high school teams is January through April. The season ends with the World Competition at Cobo Center on April 25-27 with about 40,000 people in attendance.

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Q4: Can you share any anecdotes from businesses that got involved with FIRST Robotics? Did they have positive experiences?

A: FIRST is always a win-win for companies that get involved. Two great examples come to mind. The first was a student that was hired as an intern at a tier one automotive supplier in his junior year. The very first day on the job, the student was given a software program that was relatively new to the company.  His mentor told him to play around it with it.  After lunch, the mentor returned and asked him how he was coming. The FIRST student replied: “Take a look. I created a game out of it.” The mentor was stunned.

The second story is about a student that planned to go into business rather than engineering.  He interned during his freshman year of college at the company that sponsored his high school robotics team.  About 20 of us were there for a meeting. The intern was running the meeting and was absolutely phenomenal.

Q5: What’s next for FIRST in Michigan? Are there any new initiatives, partnerships or expansions in the pipeline?

A: We always have new initiatives on the horizon. This year, the state money available through the Marshall Plan is creating fantastic opportunities for collaboration between FIRST teams and companies as communities come up with inventive ways to grow the STEM workforce. At least two of the proposals that were chosen for Plan funding included partnerships with FIRST.

FIRST is also focused on expanding our programs all the way down to kindergarten. In fact, 78 school districts across Michigan currently run all 4 of our programs (high school, middle school, upper and lower elementary school.) This season we are piloting a Pre-K program as well. It’s never too early to foster interest in STEM!

Detroit has been a huge focus for several years as we work to give every student in the city the opportunity to participate. Nearly every high school in Detroit has a FIRST team already, so we created a partnership with the Detroit Police Athletic League and Quicken Loans to start new teams at the middle school and elementary level. Ford, the FCA Foundation, the GM Foundation and Google are helping too. We are working with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to put FIRST in all third grade classrooms.

Finally, the state grant for FIRST, created about 5 years ago, enabled us to expand FIRST to the smallest of school districts in the most remote areas of the state. We are working to make sure the new legislature understands just how critical this funding is to all of our teams and to the continued development of the STEM workforce.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

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STEAM camp prepares young students for future careers

Last week a unique summer camp took place at Macomb Community College focused on STEAM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and math. The summer camp, funded through a grant from General Motors, was an immersive program specifically designed to engage middle school students from Macomb County. From college style lectures to touring real world laboratories, each day of the five-day camp had activities dedicated to one area of STEAM. For instance, on the science day, students learned a few chemistry magic tricks.

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“My favorite activity was the golden pennies,” said Emily Auchter. “They were so cool. First the pennies were cleaned with vinegar and water and then we put them in a zinc solution. Once they were silver, we took them and held them over the flames. They then turned gold.”

On the third day of camp, the students learned about art and engineering by designing and building model race cars. Ava Crnovrsanin was awarded the most aerodynamic car.  “My favorite activity was the edible cars,” she said. “Together, my partner and I made a car out of food. We then tested our cars by sending it down a ramp to see how fast it could run. Our car made it down the fastest.”

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Although each day was filled with activities, the camp also allowed the students to bond around their favorite subjects. “My favorite activity was Math Day,” said Shelby Lafferty. “I enjoyed it because I could hang out with my friends and learn at the same time.  They made math fun.”

Outside of simply providing a fun atmosphere, camps like the one held at Macomb Community College help prepare students for the future economy. It is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. And many of those roles will be related to STEAM. So it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields.

Macomb County is making big strides in this area. We collaborate with partners to develop and support initiatives that expose students to STEAM career possibilities and point them to educational pathways that lead to meaningful employment. This work includes:

  • The Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development partners with the Macomb Intermediate School District, along with an active planning committee and generous sponsors, to coordinate one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Manufacturing Day (MFG Day). Since 2014, more than 7,000 students have visited a nearby plant to see industry in action and learn about career possibilities.
  • The Department has also partnered with Romeo Community Schools as they work towards becoming Michigan’s first Ford Next Generation Learning community. The newly established Academies of Romeo will enable students to choose a thematic course of study – such as engineering, health care or information technology – and learn in a relevant, hands-on environment. Students learn math, science, English and social studies within the theme they choose.
  • Macomb Community College hosts AUTO Steam Days, a two-day hands-on opportunity for students to explore careers in automotive design, robotics, manufacturing and technology.
  • The Michigan Automotive & Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) partners with academia and area U.S. Department of Defense assets to develop a career pathway for high school and college students in cybersecurity.

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Those are just a few examples of the many programs and partnerships Macomb County is pursuing to fuel our talent pipeline and prepare the next generation for STEAM-related work opportunities. Through these efforts, we hope to ensure economic stability in our region for many years to come. But ultimately, our goal is to give our young people the tools they need to succeed and connect their passion with opportunity.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Governor Snyder recognizes MADCAT efforts to build a talent pipeline for cybersecurity

Governor Rick Snyder attended a stakeholder meeting of the Michigan Automotive & Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) held during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) Industry Preview Days at Cobo Center. Focused on MADCAT’s Cybersecurity Career Pathway Project, the purpose of the meeting was to gather information from industry leaders about the growing need for cybersecurity experts so that educational counterparts can build curriculum based on industry need.

Governor Snyder, a self-proclaimed “nerd,” commended the group for their efforts. “Our ability to take the lead in cybersecurity is dependent on public and private partners coming together to make it seamless and easy for people who want to enter the field to get relevant training.” Watch the governor’s remarks.

Other speakers included:

  • County Executive Mark A. Hackel who spoke about exponential growth in the industry based on data gathered by the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development
  • Andrew Smart, Chief Technical Officer for the American Center for Mobility announced that they will be adding a cybersecurity competent to the center.
  • Kevin Baltes, Director & CISP for Product Cybersecurity at General Motors discussed critical needs for the automotive industry
  • Major General Michael Stone, Assistant Adjutant General Installations for the Michigan Army National Guard and Jeff Jaczkowski, Associate Director for US Army TARDEC talked about critical needs for the defense industry

Elaina Farnsworth, CEO for Mobile Comply and lead consultant for the MADCAT Cyber Pathway Initiative, lead an interactive discussion to gather ideas about engaging industry and academia in creating seamless pathways to education and to market this career opportunity to students.

“As the industry emerges, new challenges will be presented to current and future workers,” said Farnsworth. “The future is unclear for tomorrow’s workers given the vast number of interrelationships between rapidly evolving technology, new market entrants and the divergent standards and regulatory efforts being promulgated around the world. As these transitions occur, more value will accrue to those who are educated and understand the evolving industry.”

Michigan’s future success will rely on investment in and commitment to collaboratively creating a clear pathway for our cyber workforce. The State of Michigan has supported the development of cyber infrastructure through a coordinated, interagency approach. To learn more about the resources available to you and your organization go to www.madcat.org

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MADCAT event kicks off NAIAS

As all eyes turn to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, an elite group met to focus on bringing awareness to the growing need for a skilled cyber workforce. Yesterday, stakeholders for the Michigan Automotive and Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) convened at Cobo Hall to discuss the automotive and defense industries aligning for the future cyber generation.

Vicky and gov.Gov. Rick Snyder, a longtime advocate for STEM education, addressed the group. Other notable presenters included Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel and Elaina Farnsworth. The robust professional lineup highlighted that the only viable option is taking an open, collaborative and inclusive approach to preparing for tomorrow today.

Farnsworth, a recognized thought-leader in the space, emphasized that “companies must invest in an educational strategy for both the organization and the workers within it. They must commit to aligning company goals and resources with the proper team members to support that vision.”

Experts estimate over 2 million new jobs will be created within the industry in the next five years. To meet this demand, professionals will need the proper education, training and credentialing within the intelligent transportation space. Many times, companies will need to recruit from within and retrain their existing workers with new and relevant skills.

hackelThe meeting on Thursday was part of an ongoing Cyber Pathways Project launched by MADCAT in 2017. Through a grassroots effort, leaders from the government, education, nonprofit and private sectors formed MADCAT in 2014 to address the growing threat of cybersecurity breaches to our region’s primary industries. MADCAT’s aim is to establish Macomb County as a cybersecurity center of excellence and to attract businesses and institutions that support the development, growth and retention of the talent pool.

For more information or to get involved with the project, visit madcat.org.

There is still time to participate in the 5th Annual  Business Super Prepared

SuperPrepared-Logo_Trans_ColorBusiness owners must expect the unexpected—AND prepare for it! That’s the message of the 5th Annual  Business Super Prepared”, a conference and expo planned for Wednesday, September 27, at the Lorenzo Cultural Center, Macomb Community College, in Clinton Township.

Top area hospitals and county emergency management teams have joined forces to present this event along with the Macomb County Chamber.

“We read headlines every day about terrible situations that businesses go through—from fires to workplace violence to computer security breaches,” said Grace Shore, CEO of the Macomb County Chamber.  “While we can’t predict what will happen, we can and should do our best to be prepared. Having a plan in place with the ability to respond quickly could mean the difference between business survival and failure.”

Local industry experts will present workshops and case studies on topics including:

  • Cyber Security – Single Employee Click
  • Managing Disruptive Behaviors
  • Being Prepared: A Community Responsibility
  • Human Trafficking
  • Case Study: Equifax Security Breach and what it means to you!

Event sponsors are: Beaumont Hospitals, United Shore Baseball League, General Motors, Accident Fund and McLaren Macomb.  This event is presented in partnership with Leadership Macomb and Macomb County Emergency Management.

“This is really valuable information that everyone needs to consider. We hope our business community and area municipalities will take advantage of the dynamic program and resources that we have assembled,” said Vicki Wolber, director of Macomb County Emergency Management and Communications.

The conference and expo take place from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Macomb Community College’s Lorenzo Cultural Center. The event costs $15 and includes continental breakfast and lunch and vendor show. Register online at Macomb County Chamber or phone (586) 493-7600 with questions.

Velocity introduces hacking tools in cyber training course

The Velocity Hub of the Michigan Cyber Range offers those looking to hone their offensive and defensive cybersecurity skills the opportunity to do so at the next Guided Capture the Flag course June 15.

This daylong program enables students to engage in live attacks on networked systems in a secured environment. Students will learn the fundamentals of hacking tools, techniques and methodologies. Topics such as password exploitation and storage, proxy chaining and SQL vulnerabilities will be covered. This is a great starting point for anyone interested as it is tailored to each participant, allowing students to dig as deep into the exercise as they are able.

This capture the flag exercise is hosted on the Michigan Cyber Range, the nation’s largest unclassified training cyber range, and takes place in a virtual training environment known as Alphaville. This is a simulated town that includes a school, library, power and electric, private business and city hall. Alphaville was created by Nathan Dragun who is the instructor for this class as well as the director of development for the Michigan Cyber Range.

Dragun has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Western Michigan University. He has completed advanced training in network security and artificial intelligence and has more than 13 years of experience solving complex technical issues in areas of security, computer networking, software development and architectural design.

Guided Capture the Flag takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 15 at the Velocity Hub of the Michigan Cyber Range, 6633 18 Mile Road, Sterling Heights, 48314. The cost is $625, and registration information can be found at www.oakland.edu/macombouinc/cyber-institute/education. There are no pre-qualifications to enroll. For more information, contact Joan Carleton at macinc@oakland.edu or (586) 884-9324.

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Caitlin Gerds-Habermas is an associate planner in business outreach and communications for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.

New cybersecurity hub latest in Macomb County workforce enhancements

20170124_085350Seeking to be at the forefront of workforce development, Macomb County celebrated the opening of the new Michigan Cyber Range Hub at Wayne State’s Advance Technology Education Center in Warren this week. This new hub will provide hands-on experience for students in areas of cybersecurity, hosting activities such as digital capture-the-flag events where participants use skills to work on digital penetration and forensics to gather clues and collect evidence in a timed and scored environment.

Operated by Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Merit Network Inc., the hub provides its services through the Wayne State College of Engineering and Division of Educational Outreach. The hub is the latest in a network of cyber ranges already in place in Macomb County. Velocity, Selfridge Air National Guard Base and General Dynamics Land Systems all feature fully operational cybersecurity hubs.

The opening ceremony brought together a regional network of workforce development partners including Wayne State University Provost Keith Whitfield; Sean Carlson, executive director of the Michigan Defense Center; Jim Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College; Joseph Sawasky, president and CEO of Merit Network; and Tricia Walding, senior project manager with the Workforce Intelligence Network.

20170124_091930Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was on hand for the ceremony and remarked how the opening reflects a continued trend of Macomb County’s readiness to compete in a globally competitive market and of the county’s emergence as a front runner in the information technology industry.

“I was born and raised within a stone’s throw of this place,” Hackel said. “The transformation of Macomb County has been absolutely incredible. This will bring together educators and industry for the betterment of all southeastern Michigan. We look forward to sharing the hub with the community.”

Resources to create the hub were provided in support from the Southeast Michigan Defense Industry Adjustment Grant through the Office of Economic Adjustment in the Department of Defense.

Posavetz, Nick IMG_0221Nick Posavetz is a senior planner for Macomb County, providing content for the Macomb Business and Make Macomb Your Home websites and associated social media accounts. If you have something you’d like to feature, reach out to him at posavetz@macombgov.org.