In today’s society, too often, money is seen as an indicator of success. People think that money is all someone needs to go far, but that’s not necessarily true. In this article, I’ll be using FIRST Robotics teams as an example of how there are a plethora of other factors that contribute to success beyond money. FIRST Robotics is an organization that runs PreK-12 robotics programs through mentor-based teams. Specifically, in this article, I’ll examine programs local to Connecticut and show how wealthier areas or areas with more money aren’t always the most successful.
In this first example, I’ll compare Glastonbury to Shelton. Glastonbury is a much wealthier area, with a median household income of roughly $130,000. Shelton, on the other hand, is slightly less wealthy, with a median household income of less than $104,000. Both towns have FIRST Robotics Competition teams, which are high school robotics teams. In the 2022 season, Glastonbury’s team placed 169th in all of New England. Shelton placed third. The team that placed first for all of New England was also a Connecticut team from Windsor Locks, Connecticut, whose median household income is even lower at less than $80,000. Obviously, this analysis isn’t holistic and doesn’t take every team’s town median income and ranking and check for a correlation; however, this example shows that income isn’t everything.
With that in mind, there are other factors to consider. Glastonbury’s FIRST Robotics Competition team is restricted to meeting three days a week during their build season, which is less than many teams. It is extraneous factors such as this that impede wealthier areas from having successful programs.
Another example is Vernon. In FIRST Lego League Challenge, a robotics league for fourth-eighth graders, Vernon has seven teams, the second largest program in the state. And as incredible as that is, only one of their seven teams has qualified for the state championship. This year roughly half of the teams in the state moved on, so one out of seven isn’t a fantastic showing. This is despite the fact that the Vernon Public Schools provides stipends for their teachers to run these teams.
When running any form of program, there are a number of attributes needed for success. For a robotics team in particular, you need the necessary materials, dedicated individuals, students to participate, a location to host the program and organizational support. Some teams are based out of a school, while others are not school-based. Many teams get the school support necessary to thrive, while school restrictions impede others. Some programs have a lot of experienced, dedicated individuals, while others do not have these same resources. That said, it takes a lot of different factors to create a successful program, and yes, teams need money. But having that money or living in a wealthy area isn’t everything.
I want to conclude with a story regarding the FIRST Tech Challenge, another FIRST Robotics program. The second qualifier in Connecticut was held in Windsor recently, and one team was brand new and had to wait for materials to be ordered and had trouble getting some of the harder-to-find parts. Yet they still left the competition with an award precisely because the judges were impressed with their excitement, energy and willingness to learn. The team made the most of their time when they were waiting for materials and used it to learn more about coding. They took what should have been a disadvantage and made the most of it. In this instance, the team didn’t necessarily lack money but instead simply didn’t have the materials ready, but they made up for it with other extraordinary attributes.
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