That’s it. It’s 2018, and we have finished our last season as an FTC team.
That has a lot less weight as words on paper than it does in my heart. – Sabriyah
The Ponytail Posse started in 2009 with a group of eight enthusiastic fourth- and fifth-grade girls. Our team membership fluctuated back and forth for the first few years, but by 2012, we had become as a close-knit family of hardworking and committed team members. Whether we have been here from the start or joined much further down the path, each of us has developed an incredible connection to this team that we can’t imagine living without.
My dad had been coaching LEGO League in our basement for two years by the time I was in 4th grade and old enough to participate. Whenever the team left the house, I would sneak downstairs and play “inventor” with their NXT LEGO robot. I had no idea what the buttons did, so I would pretend to press them and drive the robot around by hand. I kept a running list of “inventions” in my school notebook: “wiggle bot,” “dance bot,” and so on. The one time I actually did press a button and the robot moved a little bit on its own, I was ecstatic. That was my first introduction to the world of robotics. I had a lot of fun cheering for my dad’s teams at competitions during those years, but it was even better when I got to start a team of my own. – Rose
One day [Sabriyah] was talking about her robotics team was thinking of maybe adding a couple people to the robot team and after having heard stories from her several times in the past couple years of their competitions, I thought I would give it a try… I joined the team the day of the FTC challenge Kick-off and after the challenge was released we went to the Lam’s house to talk about game strategy and design ideas. I remember walking into the Posse room and seeing the floor covered in mattresses from the team sleepover the night before. I thought, “What had I just walked into?” – Heeral
My introduction to the FIRST program was interesting: I didn’t find out about through a local robot demonstration or even research on the Internet. My introduction to FIRST happened over the phone with Amy, who was a member of the Ponytail Posse FLL team at the time. It went a little something like this:
Sabriyah: “So are you available to work on that science project today?”
Amy: “No. Actually, I’m just about to leave the house for a LEGO League meeting, where we build LEGO robots and also do a project on the side. Can you join actually? We’re looking for more members.”
Sabriyah: “Uh, ok, sure! Should I come to today’s meeting?”
Amy: “Yes, that would be great! See you soon!”
It is so strange to think that this phone call changed the course of my life for the next six years. – Sabriyah
People are usually able to understand the depth of how participating in robotics affects lives. They understand that it helps us gain experiences which help us become better engineers, problem solvers, and collaborators. But while they understand the depth, these people often fail to recognize the breadth of how being part of a robotics team can shape a young person. It’s not just a path toward a successful STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career, but a gateway to self-expression, confidence, critical thinking, and empathy.
As stated by FIRST founder Dean Kamen, we don’t build the robots — the robots build us.
Before I joined robotics I was a little shy and I didn’t have any public speaking skills. If a teacher asked me to share my opinion in class or to read a passage I would always freeze up and my voice would quaver. But, after being on a robotics team for a few years, all of those fears vanished. My confidence in myself and my ideas boosted because I learned incredible soft skills like learning how to talk to adults and how to express my opinions to a large group… These are just a few of the skills that have been key to my development as a person. – Amy
… the most valuable thing I learned through my experience on a FIRST team was building confidence to face challenges. As a child, I remember automatically assuming that my answer isn’t the right one. After going through many mechanical and social challenges, I learned how to think critically and make choices based on observations. Through these experiences, I built intuition, which I used in later robotics seasons. The confidence I’ve gained through participating on a FIRST team is my biggest asset as a person because I can now face any challenge and offer a solution or an idea without fear of failing or being embarrassed. – Sabriyah
During my time on the team I watched myself grow. As my skills developed and improved so did my character. While engineering, CAD, and 3D printing are important skills that I have learned and will use for the rest of my life, the most impactful part of my FIRST experience has been the soft skills I have learned. Before being a part of FIRST I always thought that I was someone who prefered to work alone. Being part of this program and this team has showed me that I would much rather collaborate with a team. Public speaking was always something that I hated, and while I still don’t love it, I know that it is something that I can do successfully. These skills, among others, have helped to change who I am as a person. – Charlotte
When you’re in fourth grade and you hear about how FIRST robotics inspires people to become engineers, you don’t think about how that applies to you. Those of us who joined a robotics team at nine years old were there because we enjoyed building with LEGO pieces and working together with our friends. Some of us were in it for the Sunday night team dinners and everything else was extra.
But as we got older, we began to realize how our robotics experiences were influencing how we thought about the future. We could see ourselves going to college and starting a career in engineering, entrepreneurship, and other fields we had never considered before. These were tangible destinations that we had already been pursuing for years without realizing it — in other words, we were giving ourselves a massive head start.
Most people don’t know what they want to do with their lives when they are in high school, much less know what they want to do in middle school or elementary school. After my very first year of robotics in fourth grade, I knew exactly what I wanted to do the rest of my life: solve social problems and make people happy. At the time, I didn’t know there was a word for that entrepreneurial mindset, but I knew I wanted to pursue it for the rest of my life. Robotics really opened my eyes to the idea of solving problems and developing innovative solutions to benefit others. I realized that problems and challenges were fun and could be solved through creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. – Amy
Back in 4th grade, my life goal was to become an ice cream truck driver, because I thought it was awesome that they could eat as much ice cream as they wanted to all day long. Sure, at some points I thought being a doctor would be cool, but an ice cream truck driver seemed like the way to go. Only after participating in FIRST did I truly see fields I could pursue in STEM, like engineering, computer science, and many more. I realized rather than eat ice cream all day, I found it more enjoyable to brainstorm ideas, test them, improve them, and finally bring them to life (while eating a little bit of candy to keep my mind focused). The satisfaction I had whenever a part worked correctly was incredible and well worth the hours put into creating that design. As a result, I started thinking about how mechanical engineering might be a career I would really love. FTC has helped me tremendously learning skills that would be useful in this field such as how to use modeling software like Creo or Onshape, 3D printing, metal fabrication, and much more. With this program and the help I received from my teammates and coaches I know have a clear idea of what I want to be, doing something I love. – Nancy
This journey has been a wild ride. From visiting the FIRST World Championship donning purple sashes to racing our robot against elementary school students to becoming the official FIRST “Social Media Street Team,” no one could have predicted the amazing experiences we would have from start to finish. The Posse has been our biggest source of adventure for a long time — for some of us, more than half our lives — and it’s strange to think that this era has come to an end.
One thing is certain: we didn’t expect our last robotics season to have so many firsts. We were top of the leaderboard at our first competition of the season, allowing us to become an alliance captain in the elimination rounds for the first time ever. We won that tournament with the help of two hard-working and enthusiastic alliance partners. We received the Inspire Award at the Minnesota State Championship for the first time, half-wondering if we were dreaming as we accepted the trophy and looked back to see a standing ovation from our friends.
Then we traveled to the next levels of competition and it all seemed to speed up. Before we knew it, we were walking into our last judging session. Driving our last robot in its last match. Taking down our team pit area and leaving the venue for the last time, knowing that next time we walked through those doors, we wouldn’t be wearing a Ponytail Posse t-shirt — we would instead be wearing the t-shirt of a FIRST volunteer who was part of something bigger than their own team.
So even though it’s sad to know that we’ll never get to relive those moments, all seven of us are happy to step into the next phase of our journeys. Now we get to be the mentors who make a difference in students’ lives. We’re looking forward to becoming the grandparents who volunteer at robotics events every weekend, pointing to duct-taped robots and saying to each other, “Isn’t it amazing, what kids can do with a little inspiration and creativity?”
Thank you for following this chapter of our story. We hope you will join us in the next.
Read full reflections from Posse members here:
What’s next for the Posse team members?
|Sabriyah has moved to the east coast to attend Cornell University. She will be studying mechanical engineering and hopes to join a variety of STEM extracurriculars, including Cornell Rocketry, in which she will help her team build a rocket as part of the NASA Student Launch competition.||Sabriyah poses with an in-progress drivetrain prototype|
|Heeral works on a robot part with help from an engineer||Heeral has moved to the east coast to study computer science at Rutgers University. She is most excited about her Python programming and public speaking courses. She is also a member of Q-STEP, which is a program that connects science and technology majors with teaching opportunities to get local youth community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).|
|Meghan is living on campus at the University of Minnesota, where she is studying computer science. She is looking forward to joining extracurriculars such as archery club as well as volunteering at robotics events. She is also a member of AMC-W, which advocates for women in computing fields, and she plans to mentor a local robotics team, Titanium Allies, throughout the upcoming season.||Meghan teaches programming to 3rd graders at “LEGO League Sampler” class|
|Rose encourages a young robot driver at a community outreach event||Rose is living on campus at the University of Minnesota, where she is studying graphic design. In her free time, she will be a mentor for our former coach’s new FTC team, Spontaneous Construction, and volunteer at events as often as possible. She is also the new marketing officer for the U of MN FIRST alumni student group, GOFIRST.|
|Amy is living on campus at the University of St. Thomas. She is double majoring in Entrepreneurship and Marketing and she is looking forward to joining a variety of entrepreneurship clubs on campus. She is also competing in several business plan and pitch competitions this year, including the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which a premier award program open to college students around the world.||Amy (left) and Nancy (right) pose before a team judging session|
|Rose (left) and Amelie (right) sport their stylish deely-boppers while volunteering||Amelie is taking classes at both the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design this year. She is interested in pursuing degrees in digital media and math. In her free time, she works on other music and video projects, including an animated series called Wish It was Fiction.|
|Nancy has started her senior year at Mounds View high school. In the upcoming robotics season, she will be actively mentoring our former coach’s rookie FTC team, Spontaneous Construction, and volunteering at robotics events. Now that the Posse has retired, she is excited to have time to join ultimate frisbee and possibly another extracurricular activity like speech team. She plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering after graduation.||Nancy shows young visitors what the robot can do|
|Charlotte (left) and Nancy (right) rewire the robot before a competition||Charlotte has started her junior year at Mounds View high school. For the 2018-19 robotics season, she will be a member of new FTC team Anonobots and a mentor for our former coach’s new FTC team, Spontaneous Construction. She also plans to become involved with other extracurricular activities such as orchestra and National Honor Society.|