Spring 2023 UConn Co-op Legacy Fellowship – Change Grant Project
The Tolland County Robotics Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the goal of providing local students with access to educational and exciting robotics programs. To do this, in January of 2023, I founded the foundation with the short-term goal of starting ten robotics teams in the local area. These teams are part of FIRST Robotics, an international organization that provides PreK-12 robotics programs. The ten teams encompass four programs and provide students in the local area of all ages, pre-K-12th grade, with the opportunity to engage with science and technology. The teams will serve 70 students in the first year of operations and lay the financial and organizational foundation for future expansion. My Change Grant Project focused on laying the groundwork for these teams through mentoring recruitment, material purchases, creating a sign-up system, program logistics, and a financing plan to aid in this greater effort.
The Tolland County Robotics Foundation plans to run ten teams across four different programs.
- FIRST Lego League Discover is for students Grades pre-K-K. Three teams of five students will be run together as one larger session.
- FIRST Lego League Explore is for students in Grades 1-3. Three teams of six students will be run together as one larger session.
- FIRST Lego League Challenge is for students in Grades 4-8. We will run three teams of 10 students. There will be three meeting days, with each team meeting two of them and two teams meeting on any given day.
- FIRST Tech Challenge is for students in Grades 9-12. One team of 10 will be run twice a week throughout the season.
The logistical component of the project mainly relied on finding meeting spaces for each team and locking in meeting times so that parents sign up knowing when each team will meet. I found three different spaces for teams to meet: The Mansfield Public Library for FIRST Lego League Discover and Explore, Storrs Congregational Church for FIRST Lego League Challenge, and a machine shop in Coventry for the FIRST Tech Challenge. After meeting spaces were secure, times were also set.
For this aspect of my project, I worked to recruit mentors who would run the various teams and ultimately make the programs possible. Given each program’s needs, a minimum of seven mentors were needed. Mentors volunteer a minimum of two-and-a-half and a maximum of nine hours per week to their perspective team(s), and as such, finding committed people is a challenge. Ultimately, I found eight mentors across all of the programs.
This project component also led to my partnering with UConn 4H to get all mentors background checked, and mentors are currently registering through the official FIRST dashboard, where they will go through a second round of background checks. I also have planned a summer training for mentors of the two older programs, where they will learn the basics of their program and prepare for the upcoming season.
Creating a Sign-Up System
A vital part of marketing the programs and getting students registered is creating a system that is easy to utilize. To do this, I created the Tolland County Robotics Foundation’s website, tcrobotics.org. Going to this site allows parents to choose a program that best suits their child based on their age and then provides information about the program, each team’s meeting day and time, meeting locations, FAQs, and the link to the form they sign up on. This essentially gives parents a one-stop shop for information and registration.
To give the foundation a more substantial structure, I worked to create a sponsorship package and did a mailing campaign in order to distribute these to local businesses. The sponsorship package includes a letter with basic information about the foundation, the benefits each level of sponsor gets, and a form to fill out should a company choose to sponsor us. This campaign helped to generate a few sponsors, which will be built on as the programs mature.
Running these programs is very expensive, and a large part of the Change Grant budget went toward purchasing materials for the various teams.
Ultimately, my Change Grant Project was a vital step in building the organizational and financial structure of the Tolland County Robotics Foundation. These vital steps were integral in helping form the ten FIRST robotics teams that will be run by the foundation in the following school year, and in making sure that it is done in a sustainable manner. The ultimate outcome is that the Tolland County Robotics Foundation is one significant step closer to giving over 70 local students access to programs that aim to inspire them through science and technology. FIRST not only helps students gain hands-on experience with STEM, but it also helps them to build 21st-century skills that will help them succeed in life.
Youssef is a rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut, majoring in business management. His plans after graduating are to go into the nonprofit management field. His inspiration for the project stems from his 13 years as a part of FIRST, an international, PreK-12 robotics organization. He spent 12 of those years as a student, and in 8th grade, he started mentoring younger teams, eventually starting his own youth team in Storrs. Eventually, he founded the Tolland County Robotics Foundation in order to further expand the FIRST teams around UConn. At UConn, Youssef is also a Resident Assistant, Daily Campus writer, UConn FIRST treasurer, and the secretary of the Buckley/Shippee Hall Council.