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Q&A with GOFIRST President Pratheeksha Mallikarjun

U of M's GOFIRST plays critical role in success of Minnesota high school FIRST Robotics teams

This past spring, the University of Minnesota hosted thousands of high schoolers on campus for the the North Star and 10,000 Lakes Regionals FIRST Robotics Regional Competitions. GOFIRST, a University of Minnesota student group working to support robotics team, plays a key role in these competitions by mentoring teams, volunteering at regional events, and facilitating workshops.
 

We asked 2016-17 GOFIRST president Pratheeksha Mallikarjun, a University of Minnesota Gold Scholarship recipient, to share her insights on what FIRST Robotics has meant to her and the valuable role GOFIRST plays in the success of FIRST Robotics high school teams in Minnesota.

How is GOFIRST involved in the North Star and 10,000 Lakes Regional events held at the U of M?

Historically, GOFIRST's president is a member of the planning committee for all the Minnesota Regionals. Beyond this, many of our members help teams by mentoring high school teams throughout the year. GOFIRST members also volunteer in a variety of roles during the regionals, from robot inspectors to field reset volunteers and referees. Members also mentor their teams during the regional competitions and help students work through the challenges of the competition.

What kind of outreach does GOFIRST do with high schools?

GOFIRST's biggest outreach effort with high schools is the workshop events we host on campus twice a year—Summer Robotics Summit in July and MN Splash in December. These events are an opportunity for high school teams and FIRST alumni in the GOFIRST student group to present on various topics to Minnesota FIRST Robotics teams. GOFIRST also does "Robot in 3 Days" where we use the FIRST Robotics parts kit and build a robot in three days.

 

This is a great experience for our members to work together and build a robot meant to teach high school robotics teams what they can achieve with minimal resources.

 

We stream our entire build process live, post video tutorials on certain tasks (such as pneumatics and wiring), and post white papers on programming, strategy, and a robot-walkthrough for teams to reference later in the season after our build is completed. With regard to younger FIRST programs, GOFIRST helps largely by volunteering at FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST LEGO League tournaments in the metro area throughout the fall and early spring.

How has your previous high school experience in FIRST helped you in your academic career at the University of Minnesota?

Participating in FIRST in high school played an important role in preparing me for college.

 

Being on a FIRST Robotics team taught me how to work well on a team and how to feel comfortable taking a leadership role within a team.

 

I learned how to politely lead other people without seeming to be bossy, and that's a skill I have used in all my classes where group work is involved. Another important skill FIRST taught me was how to interact with industry professionals. Between competitions, where engineers are judges and robot inspectors, mentors on my own high school FIRST Robotics team, and experiences doing demonstrations to companies, I learned how to talk to engineers and how to be professional. This is a skill that has really helped me as I searched for jobs and internships.

Why did you get involved in GOFIRST?

I got involved with GOFIRST because it is the perfect balance between community service and project-based work. Through the group, I have been able to mentor multiple teams in the Minneapolis metro area, volunteer at numerous FIRST events, and speak at workshops on topics I worked extensively on when I was on a FIRST team in high school. Beyond all this, I've also been able to work on various robotics projects like Robot in 3 Days and the Autonomous Snowplow.

If you could give one piece of advice to a high school student involved in FIRST, what would you say?

My biggest piece of advice for a high school student in FIRST would be "Never give up on yourself. No matter what adversity you face, if you set your mind to something, believe in yourself, and keep trying, you will succeed." It's easy to look at someone and see all their successes, but everyone fights their own battles and everyone faces challenges at many points in their lives. If you keep believing in yourself and trying your best, though, you will eventually prevail and the success will just be that much more satisfying.


If you'd like to support University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering student groups like GOFIRST, visit our CSE Giving website.