Steve Willingham, 3rd from left, with Robot in 1 Weekend FIRST Alumni  build crew at University Mall

The Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI) was founded by a core group of FIRST volunteers to provide not-for-profit cross program support of Tampa Bay area FIRST programs and general project based learning and skills development for all ages.  Since it’s founding two years ago, FCDI has been a driving force beyond ROBOTICON, and is now spearheading development of a Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center (AMR0C).  Board chair Steve Willingham took some time to tell us more about FCDI and the great work they do in STEM and tech ed.

ROBOTICON:  What’s the goal of FCDI?

SW: FCDI stands for the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation. The name is derived from its true intent, to let our communities of creative people drive the spirit of invention and creative solutions to problems from the bottom up, rather than being restricted by political or executive self-limiting top-down directives from above. With that mantra at its core, FCDI has set its goals to include supporting academic achievement, economic development and the spirit of innovation through inspiring programs, active learning and exciting, innovative projects.

ROBOTICON: Why does FCDI believe ROBOTICON is important?

Steve Willingham, at left, working with FIRST Robotics Competition Team 5276, the Edgar Allan Ohms, from Pasco Count Library System.

SW: If we were to ignore the call to nurture and develop the early curiosities of our next generation of potential inventors, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, our future may be one of regrettable acceptance of human stagnation.  So ROBOTICON is proud to extend the tenants and excitement of FIRST’s “Sports For The Mind” beyond the end of the normal FIRST competition season, giving our youth a plethora of reasons to be excited about STEAM. And yes, I include Arts in there too because its not just about robots.

Students involved in FIRST and ROBOTICON are motivated to garner their knowledge and skills in all areas of STEM of course, but also in project finances, public speaking, documentation, teamwork, record-keeping, and the myriad of other technical and and non-technical life skills that go along with being part of an organized, competitive robotics team. All this before they’ve even graduated high school!

ROBOTICON: We’ve heard FCDI is working on the development of an Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center. Can you tell us more about that?

SW: Delighted to!  FCDI is working with its wonderful team of associates to bring to fruition the Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center here in the Tampa Bay Area. Also known as AMROC, the center will be a platform for students who want to extend the technical skills they’ve learned during their tenure with FIRST to become highly skilled Manufacturing and Industry leaders. AMROC will be a training and talent pipeline for Science, Technology and Manufacturing careers in the Tampa Bay and Central Florida regions. Complete with apprenticeship and internship opportunities, AMROC stands to become a cornerstone for Advanced Manufacturing on the Tampa Bay Area and beyond.

ROBOTICON: What’s your favorite part of the ROBOTICON experience?

SW: I really like speaking with the team members, hearing their stories, their catastrophes and triumphs as they worked hard to design and build their robots to meet the challenges of the game.  As an engineer myself, I have a good understanding of the challenges they have faced on the journey throughout the season, and it gives me reassurance that these students are learning elements of design, materials, programming, physics, and so on, that go way beyond the classroom. And, oh yeah, the music and dancing between matches is wild and crazy fun too. Can we amp that up even more?

ROBOTICON: What do you hope people will take away from their visit to ROBOTICON?

SW: I hope people take away, as I did when I first got into this, a profound realization that we’re giving these kids a first class opportunity to explore and actually apply all areas of STEM in real a world problem solving scenario, and doing so in a way that is so fun that they don’t even realize how much they are learning. It goes so far beyond the classroom. I also hope people take away a sense that Tampa Bay itself is a STEM expertise and industrial talent incubator with a rich pipeline of interested and qualified students capable of rocking all areas of the technology industry.

ROBOTICON:  Anything else you’d like to add?

SW: I’m really excited that ROBOTICON gives team members an teasingly enticing glimpse into the university atmosphere as the University of South Florida opens their arms, their heart, and their iconic Sun Dome to these smart and capable students. As I think back to my own university days, they were some of the most difficult and academically challenging, yet the most valuable for my career, and indeed are some of my fondest memories. I wish the best for all of our ROBOTICON teams and students as they move forward with their academic careers and technical skills. We can’t wait to see what’s next!

We agree! Go Teams! And come visit ROBOTICON, Tampa Bay! Tickets are FREE .

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