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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The U.S. Army is modernizing. Here’s how local FIRST Robotics students will one day help.

Robots are changing the way we do almost everything. How we shop, receive healthcare, drive – nothing is off the table and a wide range of industries are adapting to keep pace. Perhaps leading the pack is the United States military. All five branches have made technological advancements to better protect the country and its citizens. In particular, the U.S. Army is already employing various robotic and autonomous systems, but it has clearly set a course to do much more.

In March of 2017, the U.S. Army’s Capabilities Integration Center published the first Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Strategy with a central objective:

“The Army must pursue robotic and autonomous systems capabilities with urgency because adversaries are developing and employing a broad range of advanced robotic and autonomous systems technologies as well as employing new tactics to disrupt U.S. military strengths and exploit perceived weaknesses. Robotic and autonomous systems are increasingly important to ensuring freedom of maneuver and mission accomplishment with the least possible risk to soldiers.”

ausaWith that goal in mind, the Association of the U.S. Army recently hosted an Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition in Detroit. The two-day event saw hundreds of military leaders, defense industry representatives and robotics experts gather to showcase how the U.S. Army is developing critical capabilities in robotics, autonomy, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The ultimate goal – provide an open forum for attendees to discuss the Army’s efforts in creating autonomous systems while also providing a platform for industry partners to demonstrate technology breakthroughs that could help the military.

Four Macomb County FIRST Robotics teams took full advantage of that platform. Working with Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, these high school students had access to a special booth on the show floor. Here they demonstrated their engineering and programming skills by driving their custom-built robots and executing challenges. But perhaps more importantly, the space allowed the students to explain their FIRST Robotics program to high-ranking military leaders who had never heard of the organization.

As background, FIRST Robotics is a program that inspires 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 competitors. Simply put – it’s training that will build the STEM-ready workforce of tomorrow. These students will one day fill jobs like mechanical engineer or software developer. They will drive innovation and create solutions to problems that we have yet to encounter. They will lead us into the future.

Why would this matter to the U.S. Army? Well, the technological experience and problem solving abilities of FIRST Robotics students will be key to modernizing the military for the 21st century and beyond. And while the majority of these young people will likely enter the private sector, anything they invent or develop will crossover and be of use to the Army. So having the opportunity to meet these students now, while they are still in high school, can help the military forecast their future. Which is why several leaders visited the Macomb County/FIRST Robotics booth. They engaged the students in conversation, asked questions and inquired about sponsorships and internships. All told, they sparked the beginning of what could be a very mutually beneficial relationship that will help advance the interests of both the FIRST students and the U.S. Army now and well into the future.

Please note: You do not have to be in the military to make a connection with these talented FIRST Robotics students. So if you work for or run a company that would be interested in sponsorship, mentoring, hosting or simply meeting these teams, click here to take the next step. Macomb County Planning and Economic Development will help you reach the right team and build the right relationship.

Thank you to the four FIRST teams that participated at the expo:

  • ThunderChickens: Founded 20 years ago, the ThunderChickens are based out of Sterling Heights and the Utica Community Schools. The team, which has more than 100 students, has been to the FIRST Robotics World Championship 17 times, winning the event twice. In 2018, the ThunderChickens were a runner-up.
  • Crevolution: Crevolution is a FIRST team, created by The Thunderchickens, consisting of high school students from the Utica Community School district.
  • Byting Bulldogs: The Byting Bulldogs are based out of Romeo. The team has 55 student members.
  • AM.ROBOT 4810: The I.AM.ROBOT team has 58 members. It was founded seven years ago at the International Academy of Macomb.

 

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.

Landing the F-35

Macomb County is going all out in its efforts to become the home of the F-35.

What is the F-35? It’s a new fifth-generation fighter jet, capable of both air defense and ground attacks. It’s able to perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions with ease, and according to the mif35.org website, its futuristic technology is “designed to defeat today’s most advanced threat systems […] as well as those expected to emerge in the decades to come.”

Needless to say, the F-35 is a bit of a celebrity in the aircraft world.

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Across the nation, five locations were chosen as finalists in the competition to house the F-35: Montgomery, AL; Boise, ID; Jacksonville, FL; Madison, WI; and Harrison Township, MI. Selfridge Air National Guard Base is the last of the five bases that will be evaluated before the winning locations are determined.

Many factors indicate that they’ve saved the best for last.

faMacomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel, alongside the Michigan Defense Center and the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development, commissioned a comparative analysis of the five competing locations. Research shows that of the five finalists, the metro Detroit area has the necessary workforce, infrastructure, and experience to handle the F-35 mission most successfully.

To read more on why Selfridge ANGB is the ideal location for the F-35, visit mif35.org. The winning locations are expected to be announced in mid-autumn this year.

Jenna Russell is a summer intern at the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. She is a senior at Oakland University.

 

Letters of support fly in for the F-35

If you haven’t heard yet, there’s something abuzz in Macomb County! Selfridge Air National Guard Base is one of the top five national finalists competing to house a new type of fighter jet: the F-35.

s 1And the movement to bring home the F-35 is now picking up speed, thanks to several letters of support written by leaders from around the county.

Robert J. Cannon, Clinton Township supervisor, writes, “Our community understands and appreciates the true impact that Selfridge has had on our region, our state, and our nation.” Cannon goes on to explain that Selfridge was home to the country’s first successful military relations committee, which made Mount Clemens into “a model for other military towns to follow.”

s 2Selfridge has a rich history, and it only makes sense that its history should be taken into account here. As noted by Kathleen Lomako, president of the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition, Selfridge was “one of the first military airfields in the nation.” During the Second World War, the base was “able to produce new bombers at the rate of one every hour, something no one thought possible at the time.” Our area has a proud tradition of being part of our nation’s air-based defense system, and, as Lomako writes, many believe that tradition “should be extended into the next century” with the housing of the F-35.

Besides its historical significance, Selfridge also offers plenty of logistical advantages, including a new jet fuel storage and delivery system. The base is also home to all five branches of the military—a unique asset compared to other bases. Additionally, as stated by Cannon, Selfridge has “over 3,000 full-time civilian and military personnel” ready to support and defend the base.

s 3Lomako adds that there are plenty of non-military factors that make Selfridge an ideal location for the F-35 as well. Selfridge is “located in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the country,” which means its employees will have access to an efficient airport and to other employment opportunities after their military careers have ended. They will also be in close proximity to a “full spectrum of educational, commercial, and recreational services, which is desirable for any personnel stationed at the base.”

To read all the letters of support from county leaders that have been published so far, click here. And to learn more about why Selfridge is a perfect fit for the F-35, visit www.mif35.org.

Jenna Russell is a summer intern at the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. She is a senior at Oakland University.

Macomb County represents at Paris Air Show

paris-airshow-logoThe International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget has been the aviation and space industry’s largest dedicated show, with over 2,100 international exhibitors, 139,000 trade visitors, 1.4 million square feet of exhibition area sold and 150 aircraft flying displays. This event occurs in Paris every two years and brings the entire industry together with over 2,300 international companies.

The Paris Air Show gives the Macomb County Planning & Economic Development team the chance to meet with F-35 suppliers, receive the most up-to-date information in aviation, and the opportunity to network with companies outside of Michigan and, more importantly, tell our story! Getting ready for a show this large requires a great deal of prep work. Working with my dedicated teammates, I am ready to take on a week full of networking and interfacing with major international companies, F-35 suppliers and aviation specialists.

f-35Speaking of the F-35, two landed safely in France last week to debut at the Paris Air Show. Depending on the weather, the F-35 will fly during the trade show, and I will be sure to take videos to share with all of you on our social media page. The F-35 demonstrations in Paris will be the first opportunity for international audiences to see its true capabilities, including acrobatic and high G-force maneuvers. These moves are often comparable to what audiences see during performances of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

As many of you are also aware, Selfridge Air National Guard Base is in the running (along with four other states) to be one of two Air National Guard beddown locations for the F-35A Lighting II aircraft. It’s important for Macomb County to take part in the Paris Air Show and meet with Lockheed Martin suppliers to discuss the importance of why Macomb County, and more specifically, why Selfridge ANGB is the perfect and most logical choice to bring the F-35 aircraft.

My goal for the trip is to meet with F-35 suppliers, especially those outside of Michigan, and to tell the story of “why” Macomb County. With a large veteran population, over $2 billion in defense contracts annually and a competitive workforce, it should be a no-brainer that these suppliers will want to tap into and be a part of this monumental opportunity for Michigan and the county.

Janelle Arbuckle.pngJanelle Arbuckle is an economic development specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.