For the Love of Engineering: FIRST in Michigan Transforms Education

   Team 469 Las Guerrillas SolidWorks 1

Transform.  This is the word to describe engineering and science education in Michigan. The leaders, mentors, teachers, students and industry professionals behind FIRST in Michigan lead in providing the largest reach across any US state for FIRST Robotics.

After speaking with Gail Alpert, President FIRST in Michigan,  I wanted to share some of the FRC Michigan teams and their mentors with the SolidWorks Community.  Gail started with FRC Team 469 Las Guerrillas in 1999.

The FIRST in Michigan program has grown to include students of all ages and 16 district events, for Junior First Lego League and First Lego League (FLL), First Tech Challenge (FTC) and First Robotics Competition (FRC),

Team 469 Las Guerrillas SolidWorks 3

More and more, professional engineers ask me “I want to mentor – how do I get started?” FIRST Robotics provides a way that you can utilize your SolidWorks skills and design skills to help out.

Team 469 Las Guerrillas SolidWorks 4

I asked mentors Art Ostrowski from GM, Don Wright from AVL, and Brandon Horsh, Las Guerrillas graduate and Wayne State University engineering student, a few questions about their FIRST in Michigan involvement.

1. How long has the team been using SolidWorks?

Don: Las Guerrillas has been using SolidWorks since 2006 when AVL first joined the team as a sponsor.  AVL was using SolidWorks on a big project and one of the SolidWorks designers developed classes for the 469 students so they could quickly use the same tools the engineers were using. 

2. Why does Las Guerrillas use SolidWorks?

Art: Ease of use of all the modules: modeling, assembly, sketch, drafting, parametric modeling, smart menus and first order FEA and Motion study.

Don: Besides the technical details Art mentioned, the fact students/mentors can very quickly get a good enough knowledge base so that the general concepts and ideas from the students can be conveyed in a realistic manner.  It also let students try concepts in a rough way quickly before spending a lot of time getting the details right.

3. Brandon how has FIRST and SolidWorks helped you?

Brandon: Being on a FIRST team that uses SolidWorks proved beneficial beyond just my experiences with FIRST.   I joined the Formula SAE team at my university.  I was able to transfer the skills that I learned during my time as a FIRST student to my position in FSAE not just by using the software myself, but also by teaching others to use it.  This year marks the first time that our FSAE team will have created a full and accurate CAD model of our entire race car, not just the “vital” systems.

My experience with using SolidWorks was a deciding factor when it came to being hired.  Rather than train me in software usage, my employer could put me right to work with creating and analyzing parts.  Student involvement with SolidWorks gives a huge advantage in both post-secondary education and CAD related careers.


More in Michigan

There are many other teams in Michigan that are part of this transformation. SolidWorks Reseller, DASI Solutions works directly with many Michigan schools.  David Darbyshire, owner of DASI, continues to build strong relationships with FIRST in Michigan schools and our commercial customers.

For 13 years, Utica Schools, FRC Team 217 the Thunder Chickens is mentored by SolidWorks customers,  Mike Beem &  Don Bartlett, FANUC Robotics.  FANUC mentors help drive the Thunder Chickens not only towards championships but also into STEM careers.

Wings of Fire FRC Team SolidWorks

FRC Team 51, Wings of Fire, Pontiac International Academy, Pontiac, Michigan, works hard, not just for the robot competition but also to survive.  Years ago, one of the most famous teams, FRC Team 47, Chief Delphi and Team 65 The Husky Brigade, merged to keep robotics in Pontiac.   The Chief Delphi forum remains the place to go for FIRST Robotics and VEX Robotics info under the direction of Mike Martus, Robotics Education Foundation.

Other teams with strong SolidWorks mentors include Romeo Schools ,FRC 3539, Byting Bulldogs and Clawson Schools, FRC 3302 TurboTrojans.  Mentor James Ortiz, OnTask-Services, offers his SolidWorks skills to teach FIRST team.

Jackson Schools and JAMA

But perhaps my new Michigan favorite team is Jackson Schools, FRC 2611, Jacktown Vectors.  This is a small but growing team.  Bill Rayl, Jackson Area Manufacturers Association (JAMA) and his colleagues are truly making a difference to the school, its students and this community of skilled manufactures in Michigan.

I first learned about JAMA’s work with Jackson Schools at ACTE 2013.  Through this strong partnership, students start at a young age to learn about manufacturing techniques and skills with the goal of working in rewarding STEM careers. With summer camps, full high school curriculum, and after school FIRST Robotics programs, JAMA works directly with teachers and administrators for the good of Jackson, Michigan manufacturing.  And yes, there are girls too.

Thank you all for sharing your stories with the SolidWorks Community. Marie










Marie Planchard

Marie Planchard

Senior Director, Early Engagement, 3DEXPERIENCE Works at Dassault Systemes
Marie Planchard is an education and engineering advocate. As Senior Director of Education & Early Engagement, SOLIDWORKS, she is responsible for global development of content and social outreach for the 3DEXPERIENCE Works products across all levels of learning including educational institutions, Fab Labs, and entrepreneurship.
Marie Planchard