Empty Nesters Show How Science Matters
Article By: Jim Babb, For VirginiaFIRST Robotics - On their kitchen calendar, Liz and Paul Elkovich have circled Saturday, January 7, 2012 in bright red. They’re gearing-up for another year of mentoring a high school robotics team and January 7th is when they’ll learn the technical challenge their team faces in the upcoming season of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC).
That Liz and Paul still get excited at the prospect of their 8th year mentoring the “Robohawks” from Chesterfield County’s L.C. Bird High School speaks volumes about the Elkovich family -- and FIRST Robotics.
Liz and Paul raised two daughters with a knack for engineering. Both girls joined the “Robohawks” and mom and dad pitched in as team mentors. Paul’s background (he’s a VP at Alstom, a global engineering and energy firm) made him a valuable resource to lead students in design and construction of competition robots, and Liz helped team members organize their efforts and played the role of “team mom.”
Daughter Laura graduated from high school in 2004 and younger sister Andrea graduated in 2007. But even after the girls moved on, Liz and Paul remained team mentors and still are fully immersed in the activities of the “Robohawks.”
As a new competition season approaches, Paul Elkovich admits he was a little surprised that he stayed on with the team so long after his daughters graduated.
“I didn’t realize the impact it has on you personally. Once you get a bite of it, it’s difficult to make a decision to pull away from it,” he said.
For Liz Elkovich, spending time with young people keeps her young at heart.
“They’re just such great kids, they’re so bright,” she said. “This is also something husband and I can do together. This is what we can do for our community.”
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by acclaimed inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. The non-profit organization designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.
As the 2012 competition begins January 7th, thousands of students, mentors and volunteers will gather at simultaneous kickoff events across the U.S. and in about a dozen foreign countries. They’ll be eager to find out the tasks that their remote-controlled robots will have to achieve in high tech tournaments next spring.
FRC teams will learn what their robots must do. They will all receive identical kits of components. But they will receive NO instructions on how to design, build or operate their machines! That’s part of the beauty of the FIRST Robotics Competition: students are challenged to use all of their skills and imagination.
But FRC is about much more than building and driving robots. Each FRC teams also creates an enterprise that includes community outreach, fund-raising, marketing, time-management, website design, sometimes even arranging face-painting and costumes for the tournaments.
Mentors help guide the students through both technical and non-technical tasks. It’s the closest thing to a real-world work experience that most high school students could ever dream of.
Looking toward the 2012 season, Paul Elkovich doesn’t hold back.
“Excited, yes - apprehensive, yes - committed, yes. FIRST has found the successful formula: a creative combination of competitive engineers (mentors), competitive young people (high school students), and socially responsible corporate sponsors. This breeds the dedication required by all parties to make the program successful and sustainable.”
To learn more about FIRST Robotics, visit virginiafirst.org and check back in this space after January 7th to learn more about this year’s FRC contest challenge.