Given my passion for engineering and other STEM careers, and for helping STEM students, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that last weekend was the first time I’ve ever been to a FIRST Robotics Competition. But hey, as the saying goes, “Better late than never”.
I must tell you that I was blown away by what I saw and what I learned in terms of the opportunities for learning and growth that the different FIRST programs provide to kids.
Perhaps most exciting to me are the ways that the FIRST programs help young participants build a wide variety of soft skills and people skills. They aren’t allowed to just “nerd out” by building and playing with robots.
FIRST Programs Are Amazing
FIRST student teams get involved with community STEM outreach and with community service projects.
Internally within FIRST, as they go about their technical projects, the kids are expected to exhibit Gracious Professionalism® (“Respect for others, being a good sport, and sharing what you learn”) and Coopertition® (“Competing hard, but also helping the other teams”).
FIRST offers much, much more than these few benefits, but hopefully this gives you a good sense of how, and why, kids can experience phenomenal personal growth by participating.
The Idea That Offers Huge ROI
With FIRST and its benefits as the backdrop, what I want to share with you in the rest of this post is an idea that occurred to me while attending a meeting at the competition. It was for parents who wanted to know more about STEM opportunities in the Kansas City area.
Towards the close of the meeting, the presenter suggested that parents should be sure to look for colleges that would offer their kids “hands-on” opportunities, much like what FIRST gives to kids in all four of their programs.
Right then was when the idea popped into my head.
The idea is that as kids (especially teens in middle and high school) are moving through their lives, it would be incredibly helpful if their most significant learning experiences and personal successes were captured (and stored) for later reference.
Why Is This Idea Important?
If you’re wondering why this is important, it’s because students’ “stories” of learning, of failure, of success, and much more, will be needed when they are interviewing for internships and full-time jobs, especially while in college.
Their stories will be needed because most companies today use behavioral style interviewing, which means that to be a successful interviewee you MUST be able to provide real-life examples as a part of your answers.
STEM Student Career Archive Examples
Given this idea of building and maintaining what I’m calling a “STEM Student Career Archive”, here are a few examples of what some archive items might look like for a high school student who’s in the FIRST Robotics Competition:
- Team Photo – Group photo, along with a short description of what it was like to work on the team. Most fun? Biggest challenge? Least fun? Best moment? Most important thing learned? Key skills learned?
- Team Business Cards & “Who We Are” Flyers – It might be appropriate to show and talk about these marketing materials during a future interview.
- Photos of Robot – These could be shared during an interview and used as a catalyst for a specific conversation about the student’s role in designing, building and operating the robot.
- Community Outreach – Photos, descriptions and data related to the team’s community outreach activities to promote interest in STEM careers amongst young kids.
- Community Service – Similar to the Outreach example above, but this bullet is focused on the service projects the team designed and delivered in their community.
Being Intentional Is Critical
I have no doubt that most parents and students are already filing away things like I’ve suggested here (both digital and/or physical versions), but I would bet that they’re aren’t doing it with the goal of supporting future interviews and career moves.
Being very intentional about building a STEM Student Career Archive that’s dedicated to career success is what makes the difference between “just collecting stuff” to bring back fun memories versus capturing and documenting valuable experiences that could serve as useful interview stories.
Don’t Be This Guy
As a former engineering recruiter for John Deere, I must tell you that I always felt a bit sad for the students who failed to prepare properly for their interviews.
Often they would be left speechless because they couldn’t come up with a good story or example in the heat of the moment.
Fortunately, this can be easily avoided if a student has a Career Archive to draw from as they prepare for their interviews.
As this post’s title alludes, your Return On Investment (ROI) of building a robust Personal Career Archive can be HUGE!
Question: What does your Career Archive currently contain? You can leave a comment below.
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A SUCCESS MANIFESTO FOR 21st CENTURY ENGINEERING STUDENTS