Flint FIRST Robotics
Harrison Ford is an educator and mentor with Flint FIRST Robotics. The Flint FIRST team participated in the ArtPrize STEAM Village in 2017, creating a robot for the 19-day event and interacting with ArtPrize visitors.
ArtPrize: Tell us a little bit about Flint FIRST Robotics. What is your programming year round like?
Harrison Ford: Flint FIRST Robotics is based on an idea of using S.T.E.M.-based curriculum to promote advancement in young minds. Flint FIRST uses robotics as its main function, but there’s a lot more to FIRST than just robotics. We’re trying to adhere to students’ concerns of not wanting or being able to be in an activity that’s only based on athleticism; we’re promoting the mind as well. We’re trying to give kids an alternative to going onto the sports field or participating in activities that just don’t challenge them to the greater aspects of what they want to be.
Our biggest thing is gracious professionalism. Being in FIRST, you create your own identity, and you are able to find your own niche in life and the person you really want to grow into. You also establish a family connection with your team, your mentors, your students, your sponsors. You get a giant dose of how to network and build relationships that you would normally not get the opportunity to at a young age. At the same time, as mentors, we get a chance to pass on the knowledge we’ve learned throughout the years to a younger generation in order to build a brighter future.
Your team came all the way from Flint to participate in ArtPrize last year, what was that like for your students?
My students were shocked beyond all reason. I don’t think any of us had heard of ArtPrize, and even for those who had, they had never participated. It was an eye opening experience, not only for the students, but for the mentors as well. To see an entire city that was dedicated to art and creativity and imagination, it really helped push the envelope when it came down to the students’ creativity for the robots they create.
As soon as we left ArtPrize, in the following season, we saw where they took the lessons they got from ArtPrize, like looking at the different sculptures and engaging with the different artists who thought outside the box, and they incorporated that into their robots. Maybe by using something that most people would throw away, the students would use it to create something else in the robotics field.
I was very proud of the students to take on that kind of challenge and be able to use that experience to further grow their own passion.
At ArtPrize, we place a high value on art education and the importance of encouraging creativity and innovation, and a lot of that you can learn through engaging with art. What else would you say is the importance of having field trips like this programmed within educational experiences for your students?
I think it is greatly important because it offers an opportunity that most kids do not receive. Us being from the City of Flint and our team being from Flint Community Schools, a lot of the kids, when I talk to them, they tell me they’ve never really gone anywhere outside of the City of Flint. So when we plan our trips and choose what competitions we go to, we don’t try and stick within the area, we try and go a ways out. This was our first year going to Sault St. Marie up north and the kids loved it! Similarly, this was the first time most of the kids had ever been able to go to ArtPrize or even the Grand Rapids area in general. They really took a liking to it just to be out of the city and see a brand new environment, see a different mindset, see a different culture. They can get so used to their norm where they are and get so comfortable. But now that we’re pushing them out of their comfort zone, they have adapted really well. We see them in the mindset of, “we can be in this new kind of environment, and we can learn from other places and bring it back home to Flint.”
During our time at ArtPrize, we not only did the task of creating an art based robot, we incorporated FIRST Robotics culture in general. We brought in a speaker and when the kids were driving around, they played the music that they’d play at a competition and all the kids danced! They really pushed the barrier to say that, no matter where you go, we can all communicate together and carry an aspect of FIRST within us. Everyone knows how to perform graciously and be professional, but that does not mean you don’t have fun. You have fun in your hobbies and your day to day!
One of my students, I’ll never forget what he said, he would have never been able to have this opportunity if it weren’t for FIRSTFirst Robotics and people who see greater things happening within cities such as ArtPrize, and the willingness of the school to allow them to go out and experience those things during school time.
Do you have any other favorite memories from your trip at ArtPrize last year?
I would say one of my grandest memories was really bonding with my students on a different kind of level. We’re normally in a robotics environment when we go on trips pertaining to robotics. But when it came to this, it was such a relief to see that not only did we create a robot for the task we were supposed to fulfill, but we just saw a whole different world filled with art, a whole different environment from what we’re used to. To see the smiles light up on their faces or hear the words come out of their mouths saying things like, “wow this might be a place I want to try to come to in my daily life!” They’re so excited to even return to ArtPrize, whether they do something or not they just want to show up. I’m excited to get them there!
To see a kid gravitate to the mindset of, “I want to be something more than my environment is,” and see that it can happen, even in other places— it’s remarkable. Experiences like these make that happen.