For the second year in a row, the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation heads to the FIRST Championship in Houston, to share our work at the FIRST Conference.  The Houston FIRST Championship is one of two international level competitions FIRST hosts, the second taking place in Detroit next week.  The two events draw a combined 70,000 people from around the world to the ultimate competition for this Sport for the Mind, which is less about the robots students built and are competing with, than it is a celebration of our next generation of science and technology leaders and innovators.

Last spring, we spoke at the Championship about ROBOTICON and how others might leverage the Power of the Off-Season event to raise community awareness and corporate engagement in FIRST programs.  This year, on a related note and in a topic quite appropriate to this season’s aerospace themed FIRST Launch, we’ll be talking about our Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center (AMRoC) Fab Lab, a direct outgrowth of ROBOTICON that is set to launch formally to the public in Uptown Tampa in June.  The goal of the presentation is to share some best practices on how other communities can try to re-purpose space to create FIRST community centers in other areas.

Representing FCDI will be board members Michele Mendez and Michael Smith-Mapp, board chair Steve Willingham and executive director, Terri Willingham, joined by FCDI program partner Scott Ertz, to discuss how his company PLuGHiTz Live works with FCDI to share the story of hands on learning and the FIRST experience through the FIRST Looks platform, and how PLuGHiTz Live is helping at AMRoC.  We’ll also be joined by some great living proof of the effectiveness of our efforts, FIRST Tech Challenge Team Duct Tape, the FTC team started in the Willinghams’ garage 11 year ago, and which earned a spot at Houston FIRST Championship this year – one of only seven teams statewide (out of 200!) to do so.   Team Duct Tape is the first of what will be four FIRST house teams at AMRoC Fab Lab.

We go not only representing FCDI and our programs but the greater Uptown Tampa community, supported in part by RD Management, the owner and developer of University Mall , where AMROC is headquartered, and who provided generous sponsorship of Team Duct Tape to help with their travel costs.  It is in large measure due to the vision and leadership of RD Management and University Mall that AMRoC Fab Lab is being made possible.  It’s one thing to have a great idea, but it’s another to find the right people who not only get the idea and support it, but who share a sense of the importance of helping making it happen. It’s been a long journey to find a home for AMRoC, but we couldn’t have found better visionary partners than University Mall and RD Management.

We’re looking forward to sharing that story, and helping others find those amazing innovative partners in their communities, to help build more accessible  STEM  focused resource and capacity building centers for youth and adults nationwide.