Friday, October 22, 2010

FIRST Helps Kettering University Student Make the Switch

When Quinn Wagner looked ahead to life after high school, he figured his future would lie under the hood of the nearest Honda Civic or Ford Taurus. It wasn’t until he connected with FIRST Mentor Chip Montgomery, Mechanical Engineer at ABCO Automation in Brown Summit, North Carolina, that Wagner had second thoughts about working on engines and exhaust systems and decided to pursue a career in engineering instead.

The journey began when Wagner became a member of FIRST LEGO® League (FLL®) team S.K.U.A.S. for the Arctic Impact game in 2000. Four years later, the team won the state tournament and competed at the FLL World Festival, in Atlanta, Georgia, where they took second place honors for Research Quality. In 2004, Wagner was a founding member of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC®) Team 1533, “Triple Strange.” During his last year with the team, they won the Engineering Inspiration Award at the Peachtree Regional, held in Duluth, Georgia. It was during his time with Team Triple Strange that Wagner met Montgomery, and, with his guidance, was able to set his sights on college.

Wagner, who has been home schooled all of his life, has also spent the last several years mentoring and coaching a variety of FLL and FRC teams in and around North Carolina, including FRC Team 2655, “The Flying Platypi,” where he helped build a robot that was part of the winning alliance at the Peachtree Regional in 2009.

In 2005, Wagner volunteered at the FIRST Championship as part of the FRC field reset and teardown crew, and, in 2009, was lead assistant to the Head Referee at the Peachtree Regional. In 2010, Wagner volunteered as a robot inspector at the first ever North Carolina Regional. Thanks in part to his enthusiasm for all things FIRST, Wagner’s mother, Marie Hopper, is now the FIRST Regional Director for North Carolina.

Wagner says he has fond memories of his experiences with the FIRST teams. “Thanks to the various positions I’ve held on teams through the years, I’ve learned invaluable leadership skills that will help me in future jobs. The ability to work side-by-side with Chip learning CAD and other engineering skills was a turning point for me. And the thrill of competing and problem-solving on the fly can’t be beat!” says Wagner.

Today, a mechanical engineering major in his second year at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan, Wagner has come full circle with Mentor Montgomery through a co-op job with ABCO Automation. As such, each work quarter he is assigned to a different section of the company and is learning the ropes of being a mechanical engineer in the field as well as through his academic courses at school.

With plans to graduate from Kettering in 2015, Wagner is grateful for the assistance he’s received from the university ─ especially since a college degree costs a lot more than the local trade school he originally anticipated attending when considering a career in auto mechanics. Along with several other Kettering freshmen, Wagner has been awarded a $5,000 a year FIRST Scholarship to Kettering University because of the college’s affiliation with FIRST.

According to Bob Nichols, Director of External Affairs for the university, the Kettering FIRST scholarship program has been a huge recruiting success. “More than 15 percent of Kettering’s 2009 freshmen class are FIRST alumni and were on a FIRST team as a senior in high school. That’s a six percent increase over the previous year. We feel the FIRST connection is integral in developing our students,” says Nichols, who has been involved with FIRST since 1999.

The university administrator admits that he has a particular passion for FIRST and says the connection makes sense because Kettering co-sponsors two FRC teams and sponsors a FIRST LEGO League team. “These are the students we need to be recruiting. When the program began, we granted two scholarships. Today, we are awarding 13 or 14 a year. Our goal is to have 20 percent of our entering freshmen class in 2011 having participated on a FIRST team in high school,” says Nichols, who adds that Kettering University is in its 11th year of hosting FIRST events and looks forward to adding new teams each year.

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