Matt Wilbur Award

In 2016, Triple Helix head coach Nate Laverdure established the Matt Wilbur Award named in honor of the team’s 2007 founder. Nate had this to say at the team’s season-end celebration banquet:

Triple Helix team members come in many forms. Tonight we have been celebrating the excellent work of our students, but it’s important to remember that the team wouldn’t be successful without the contributions of our other team members– parents, mentors, alumni, advisors, sponsors, and friends. After our seniors graduate and take with them all the things they’ve experienced during their time with Triple Helix, these folks are charged with carrying on the history, personality, and culture of the team.

The Matt Wilbur Award celebrates adult team members who effectively advance the mission and vision of Triple Helix by leading, inspiring, empowering, motivating, and influencing others. The award recognizes an individual who has advanced our community’s appreciation for engineering and engineers. This year’s winner will be inducted into the Triple Helix Hall of Fame, and in the future will be joined by one winner per year.

The Matt Wilbur Award reflects the name of our team’s founder. During his incredible 8-year period as head coach, Mr. Wilbur led Triple Helix to 5 regular-season wins and 20 official awards. His leadership established Triple Helix as a regional powerhouse of competitive excellence, which allowed us to recently become one of the winningest teams in our Chesapeake Region. He also saw 92% of graduates pursue their college plans, 83% of them majoring in a STEM field. Most importantly, he helped many Triple Helix students find something in themselves that they didn’t know existed, and helped others find outlets for things that they needed to show the world. Through the systems of leadership and project management that Mr. Wilbur established for the team, Mr. Wilbur laid the cornerstone for all that Triple Helix does and aspires to do.

Below, find more information about each of our honorees.

I am proud to present the winner of the inaugural Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Todd Ferrante.

The opportunity to learn from Mr. Ferrante was one of the key reasons I joined Triple Helix in 2014. He’s been pivotal to my growth as an engineer, a mentor, and a leader. He deeply understands the importance of carrying on the team culture, and he’s often the first mentor to demonstrate how the team works to new team members. When I work with him, I’m inspired to be a better mentor.

Mr. Ferrante explored exciting new roles during the 2016 FRC season. He served as a founding member of the board of directors for Triple Helix’s booster organization. He’s thrived as the drive team coach, directly leading a small group of students and expertly leveraging the support of the entire team, gaining huge victories for the team, on and off the field. In advising for the award, Mr. Wilbur had this to say about this year’s winner:

In 2011, Triple Helix was a team on the rise both competitively and with our outreach program. That year, however, Todd Ferrante arrived, and Triple Helix shot through the roof, largely due to Todd’s contributions to the team. That year, we won the Palmetto Regional and were finalists at the Virginia Regional, losing to the team that was eventually one of the FIRST world champions that season. We also won four other awards, causing everyone within FIRST to sit up and take notice. The team has continued to excel with Todd’s guidance, patience, and dedication leading the charge. Todd’s outstanding grasp of mechanical systems, patience with the students and other mentors, and his willingness to lead and participate in outreach efforts have undoubtedly made Triple Helix a significantly better team. I am pleased that I was able to mentor alongside of Todd for several years, and I am tremendously pleased that I am privileged to call him my friend.

Tonight I am proud to present the winner of the 2nd annual Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Matt Lythgoe.

Lythgoe is the team’s most senior mentor.  He joined the team in 2008 as a faculty advisor while teaching math, programming, and robotics courses at Menchville, and he has been an instrumental part of the team ever since.  His leadership helped set the foundation for the team’s successful approach to determining a game strategy and finding programming solutions to tough problems.  Sometimes using his special brand of sarcasm, he has set up highly effective work practices for the programming subteam.  His students have gone on to pursue degrees in Computer Science, Computational Modeling, Data Analytics, etc. and several have interned with him as they deepen their understanding of software development.

My experience working with Lythgoe in summer 2014, as we kick started the planning for the inaugural Rumble in the Roads, was my first exposure to Triple Helix and an important reason I joined the team later that year.  Since I took on my present role, he’s consistently served as an essential advisor.

Lythgoe is in tune with what’s happening at the leading edge of competitiveness in FRC, and the team has benefited from the relationships he’s grown with teams across the country.  His son Jackson is now only ~12 years away from being a Triple Helix student.

When I spoke to Matt Wilbur about this award presentation a few weeks ago, he said “Please extend my congratulations to the team for another fantastic season, and congrats to Matt for being selected to the Triple Helix Hall of Fame!”

Tonight I am proud to present the winner of the 3nd annual Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Bill Bretton.

Bill and I joined Triple Helix around the same time in 2014.  The first thing to understand about Bill is that his first priority is his family– that was evident from the very first time I met him, at an introductory meeting where he and Ben toured the workshop and met the rest of the team.  He told us that since being a part of Triple Helix was something Ben wanted to do, then he was going to be involved too– and since then, the Bretton family has become an integral part of the Triple Helix family.

Bill has been our electrical subteam mentor since day one, and in the past few seasons he’s also become our lead mentor for the pit crew at competitions.  Bill is quick to see the potential in his students and molds them into true members of a team.  In the past couple years, Bill has advanced our electrical subteam to the leading edge of technology in FRC and has made Triple Helix into a reference for teams in our area.  In the Triple Helix workshop and in the pit, he creates an environment where everyone performs at their best even in stressful circumstances.  When you are asked to be a member of a pit crew, you may have to fight an instinctive urge to immediately fix any problem you discover.  Bill’s pit crew isn’t reactive like that– the individual members of the pit have overlapping focus areas, they employ standard procedures which are deeply considered and evolve throughout the season, they follow information handoff practices to reduce misunderstandings, and they make big decisions based on trends.  It’s complex, challenging work that looks seamless because of Bill’s skill as a mentor and a leader.

Bill’s also a mentor to me– he has a deep empathy, especially for introverts, that he develops his guidance from.  He is level headed and has almost no cynicism, which makes him a good counterbalance against Lythgoe.  He can do a perfect impression of the look that my father gives me when he’s not mad, just disappointed.

I would like to thank Bill and his family for their work advancing the goals of Triple Helix in our community, and present him this year’s Matt Wilbur Award.

Tonight I am proud to present the winner of the 4th annual Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Wendy Bretton.

Wendy is a rock star technical mentor. Under Wendy’s leadership this season, her programming subteam gave life to one of the most technically ambitious competition robots that Triple Helix has ever created.  The work we did this year in motion control, computer vision, and semiautonomous driving are star achievements that reinforce our team’s role as a technical leader in the FRC community.

Triple Helix constantly talks about our dedication to continuous improvement, learning from our experiences, improving and expanding our knowledge base, etc.  One aspect of this that doesn’t get as much attention is that, to find these lessons learned, you must go exploring outside your comfort zone.  Sometimes this can be a challenging, humbling experience.  One of Wendy’s greatest skills as a mentor is building a team around her that is eager to take on ambitious tasks, knowing that they have a lot still to learn.  She is adept at creating spaces where failure is experienced in a positive way, which is essential for growing people who do excellent work as a member of a team and have empathy for others.

One of the reasons I came to Triple Helix in 2015 was to seek out my own mentors.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to work with Wendy, as she has been a great mentor to me personally.  Her input into team leadership decisions, including encouraging much more student involvement in steering our organization, has made the team immeasurably better.

I would like to thank Wendy for her work advancing the goals of Triple Helix in our community, and present her this year’s Matt Wilbur Award.

Woodie Flowers 2022: Chris Garrity

Triple Helix students are proud to submit the following Woodie Flowers Award nomination for mentor and alumni Chris Garrity.

Chris G, former Triple Helix student and current mentor, spends every day bringing his professional knowledge and unmatched enthusiasm for STEM to everything he does. From mentoring students on 2363 to helping organize FTC tournaments, he is a role model that all of our students aspire to be.

There is not a more supportive mentor than Chris G. Throughout Covid, our team meeting possibilities became more limited and could not access our workspace at the high school. Our team facilitates the Peninsula STEM Gym, but we were still not able to have large numbers of team members there. We were participating in the 2020 FRC challenges and Chris would meet team members there to let us work. Many days he sat for hours on his days off, supporting meetings so even one student could work all day on their project. He offered guidance when needed, but let the students take the lead.

While there are many ways to approach designing a FRC robot, Chris emphasizes an approach of rapid iterative prototyping that involves all students and teaches valuable hands-on experience. He inspires students by teaching them how to make their creative ideas into real designs. These same students use what they have learned to teach new students, creating a powerful cycle to keep all team members included and engaged.

Chris is constantly encouraging students to express their ideas. He shares thoughts on our Slack channel and encourages students to comment on the ideas and share their own, working together to strengthen our ideas. He encourages all students to contribute to the design of the robot since he acknowledges that everyone provides a unique perspective that gives our team a competitive edge. His enthusiasm during the season makes the hard work of FRC fun for all students.

He provides summaries of meetings to keep everyone on the same page, and documents significant mechanical findings to give people unable to attend meetings a clear idea of what the team was doing so they can contribute.

Chris clearly explains technical concepts to students so they feel they can make a significant contribution and share these concepts with other students. He serves as safety mentor and has written and presented information for the entire team about safe practices while fabricating the robot.

Chris G has changed our team for the better. He exhibits everything that FIRST stands for; through his passion for engineering, his enthusiasm and patience in working with students, and his true caring for all members of the team. His kindness, generosity, and desire to see us succeed has made us believe in ourselves, and this is what we will take with us, long after we move on from FRC.

The Engineering Awards Hexafecta

Triple Helix Robotics has won each of the following Machine, Creativity, & Innovation Awards of the modern FIRST Robotics Competition.

AwardEvent most recently won atRobot
Autonomous Award2022 CHS District Greater Richmond Event #2Genome Nu
Creativity Award2019 FIRST Chesapeake District ChampionshipGenome Lambda
Excellence in Engineering Award2011 Palmetto RegionalGenome Gamma
Industrial Design Award2014 Chesapeake RegionalGenome Zeta
Innovation in Control Award2018 CHS District Northern Virginia EventGenome Kappa
Quality Award2013 Virginia RegionalGenome Epsilon

Find other Hexafecta teams here.

Chairman’s Award judge feedback

Triple Helix Robotics is proud to share the feedback we received from the judge panels who interviewed us about our 2022 Chairman’s Award submission.

In regards to the feedback from the Greater Richmond Event #1 Day #1, our head coach provided this feedback:

Wow, this is the best written award feedback I have ever seen! 
We were also extremely impressed by our judges, who asked insightful probing questions in the interview that demonstrated their interest and care.

Chairman’s Award submission 2022

Triple Helix is proud to publish this essay as part of our submission for the 2022 FIRST Robotics Competition Chairman’s Award.

Triple Helix has evolved to be a STEM leader in the Hampton Roads (HR) community, with the goals of enabling team sustainability, supporting the larger FIRST community, and spreading the message of FIRST.

BUILDING OUR FOUNDATION – TEAM SUSTAINABILITY

Our approach to team sustainability includes an emphasis on student leadership, strong recruitment, an open-door policy, and building a robust network of supporters in our community through our nonprofit organization, the Intentional Innovation Foundation (IIF).

Triple Helix mentors, parents, sponsor representatives, and other community stakeholders came together in 2015 to establish the all-volunteer public charity IIF to organize community support for Triple Helix, the Peninsula STEM Gym, and the Rumble in the Roads. Providing a stable financial structure for these initiatives, IIF enables us to serve a larger community by operating and sponsoring STEM education activities throughout HR, and opens the door to additional funding opportunities.

Prior to COVID, we addressed the team’s need for an influx of new students by conducting a number of outreach events at local schools, focusing on students who participated in FLL and FTC; we also held multiple open houses and participated in events at our school such as Back to School Night and the activities fair. After the pandemic, safety became our team’s top priority and our recruitment strategy evolved. We reached out to students that had participated on FLL teams that our team members had mentored; currently 80% of our new members came from these teams. Triple Helix is committed to providing an opportunity for all students to participate on an FRC team. We allow students to join who go to schools that do not have a team, as well as those who attend private schools or are homeschooled.

To address the need to retain students and develop student’s leadership skills, we have developed a new student presentation and have a detailed training plan for learning team equipment. The team has developed a structure based on students taking on a number of leadership positions.

There is an overall team captain and leaders for each of the sub-teams such as mechanical, electrical, programming, and scouting. In the last three years, due to their experience on Triple Helix, 100% of our team members have been accepted into a STEM degree program at institutions such as MIT, Rochester, Perdue, Virginia Tech, and UVA.

Triple Helix met the challenge of retaining students during COVID by pioneering the development of TORC, a design-build-fly drone competition within Triple Helix. In this program, we provided cinewhoop-class quadcopter kits to each student and adult team member who were empowered to grow their skills and bring their drones to life, while working within the bounds of protection measures. This virtual and limited in-person program enabled us to maintain a high level of student and mentor engagement through the pandemic, and positioned the team to perform to our potential in the 2021 Infinite Recharge At-Home Competition, where we placed 39th out of 1412 teams.

To recruit and retain mentors, we engage with local businesses and sponsors to raise awareness of Triple Helix and our strong program. Because we are a known leader in the STEM community, we attract FIRST alumni who want to return to the program as mentors. Over 40% of our current mentors participated in one or more FIRST programs as a student. We also benefit from the engagement and varied skillsets of the parents who fill roles from programming mentor to outreach and scouting mentor.

SUPPORTING FIRST PROGRAMS

Triple Helix focuses its efforts in the FIRST community on supporting and sustaining existing teams. Our widest-reaching effort is sharing best practices and lessons learned with the worldwide community via our impactful videos and publications. On our YouTube channel we post instructional design videos, robot demos, season logs, drive team development, and match videos. Examples of our Tech Tip videos include how to build bumpers and drivetrains, programming gamepad controllers, and pneumatic prototyping. This channel has accumulated over 1250 lifetime watch hours and nearly 60k views over the last two years. In addition, our website has a plethora of publications for teams to reference for team management and robot development; for example, our published budget provides insight on the inner administrative workings of an active FRC team. Triple Helix is also a leader in the wider FRC online community, including Chief Delphi, Github, and the FRC Discord; this year we have used these platforms to trailblaze new ideas in autonomous path planning and trajectory following for both differential-drive and swerve-drive robots.

Our primary regional outreach effort is our annual off-season competition, Rumble in the Roads, which we host with partner teams 1610 and 5957. The event attracts over 30 teams from VA, NC, and MD. The pre-season event gives teams the opportunity to test new designs, provides practice for the drive team, as well as the opportunity to interact with other teams in a more relaxed competitive environment. It also provides an incredible opportunity to network with local community leaders, sponsors, and judges who have included high school teachers, university professors, professional engineers, and senior executives of NASA Langley Research Center. To make the Rumble experience accessible to rookie teams, we often waive their competition fees.

Since 2018, we have maintained the Peninsula STEM Gym; a multifaceted collaborative workspace that caters to all levels of FIRST teams. Since opening, the facility has featured FRC practice space, FTC fields sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding, and a location for FLL teams to test and collaborate. Local FRC and FTC teams have used the space to test their robots at least 30 times since its establishment; the space also hosted a collaboration between a local FRC team and the Newport News Police Department (NNPD) on a robot for their shooting range. Triple Helix hosted an FLL Kickoff at the STEM Gym which gave local teams an opportunity to review the playing field, discuss robot design options, and talk to experts regarding their projects.. Triple Helix continued to keep the STEM Gym open as a socially-distanced meeting space for the local youth STEM competition community throughout COVID.

Triple Helix also provides targeted support to local teams based on their needs. We started a partnership with our school district’s STEM Department to deliver an organized mentoring program to multiple underserved schools, including FLL and FLL Jr. teams. When COVID hit, we transitioned to virtual mentoring, including two teams in Florida and Virginia, which went on to compete at their State Championships. We held FLL practice days and mock judging sessions to allow teams an opportunity to practice both judging and running their robot on the field. We started and coached two FLL Jr. teams at BC Charles Elementary School, and then ran an FLL Jr. Expo which allowed teams to showcase their work. On multiple occasions, we have hosted FLL teams at our shop and have provided them with tours and information, including inviting The Waffle Bunnies to practice their project presentation. This practice helped the team to earn a spot at the 2020 FIRST Championship.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Triple Helix plays an active role in the local FIRST community. We participate in community demonstrations and sponsor-hosted events. The events vary from large such as the CNU Community STEM Day, showcasing our team and robot to over 4,000 visitors, to small such as Mad Science Night at Baron Elementary School. We have provided laptops and FLL mats for STEM events in the community, such as summer programming workshops for ESL, Refugee children, and a homeless shelter.

In 2019 Triple Helix began a novel collaboration with the Occupational Therapy (OT) doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to explore the intersection of rehabilitation & the maker movement. In 2019 and 2020, our team served under contract as a host organization for OT students who designed and executed capstone projects for completion of their doctorate. While embedded in the team for a semester, the VCU students participated in Triple Helix’s FRC build season as junior mentors, learning fabrication skills and the iterative engineering design process. Meanwhile, Triple Helix teammates worked alongside the OT students to design and build low-cost assistive technology for a diverse set of local clients. The collaboration has produced 5 ride-on toy cars for young children with mobility impairments, many switch-adapted toys to help children learn cause-effect relationships, a single-handed archery rig for a summer camp, and more examples which demonstrate the potential of youth STEM teams to rapidly produce custom, low cost devices which improve lives in our community.

Triple Helix values our sponsor relationships, and we’ve volunteered, networked, and celebrated alongside new and longtime sponsors at various events from dinner theatre, to airshows, to galas. We’ve also collaborated on a technical level with our sponsors; for example, parts designed and 3d printed by Triple Helix have been installed into a megascience experiment at sponsor Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

Giving back is an important part of the mission of Triple Helix. Triple Helix is a certifying organization of the President’s Volunteer Service Award to reward students who volunteer in support of our sponsors and community. In 2020, the team assisted the NNPD by weaving mats for the homeless out of plastic bags.

IT’S IN OUR GENES

Our efforts have truly been impactful to the team and our FIRST community. We really are “more than just robots.”

Dean’s List 2022: Justin B

Triple Helix mentors are proud to submit the following Dean’s List Award nomination for student captain Justin B, of the class of 2023.

Explain how the student embodies the philosophies of Gracious Professionalism and Coopetition through the FIRST Core Values: Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork and Fun. Please provide examples.

Through his engagement in FIRST, Justin has grown into an outstanding student leader who consistently demonstrates a passion for FIRST ideals, a thoughtful and effective leadership style, and a motivation for learning which every 2363 team member tries to model. J’s standout contributions to our program (providing the test case for our quadcopter challenge, leading our project to provide low-cost assistive technology for people with disabilities) have all involved leveraging his knowledge, interest, and pursuit of fun in service to his teammates and our community. An instinctive gracious professional, J has made key impacts within the STEM competition community through his involvement in influential prototyping videos, whitepapers, conference presentations, and other shared resources.

How has the student increased the awareness of FIRST? Describe the student’s interests and/or plans to continue to engage with FIRST beyond high school. Please provide examples.

A dedicated advocate for FIRST and a believer in FIRST students’ power to make meaningful change, Justin assumed a leadership role in our project exploring the intersection of rehabilitation & the maker movement. J and teammates work alongside Occupational Therapy doctoral students to design & build low-cost assistive tech, such as adapting switches into toys to help children learn cause-effect relationships. These devices are immediately beneficial to the clients and are lasting proof of the great potential of students who have gained skills through FIRST. J is also a valuable contributor to traditional outreach events, and recently helped create a mock judging experience for a Championship-bound FLL team. J plans to continue his FIRST participation via event volunteering and mentorship.

Describe the student’s technical expertise, using specific examples in the areas of programming, electronics, design, fabrication, making, illustrating how these skills have contributed to the team’s success. Please provide examples.

Justin always demonstrates remarkable professionalism, sense of responsibility, knack for learning, and emotional intelligence that sets him apart from his teammates. Peers and mentors regularly applaud his work ethic, and he constantly proves himself open to new responsibilities. Because of his motivation to learn and contribute, J has cultivated an expertise in all technical aspects of the team. J’s landmark contributions have included development of an advanced autonomous path-planning software, the CAD design of our robot’s end-effectors in the 2018-2020 FRC seasons, and advancement into a student-trainer role in the operation of precision machinery such as the team’s mill, lathe, laser cutter, and 3d printers.

How does the student’s individual contributions to the team benefit the team as a whole in the areas of fundraising, outreach, entrepreneurship, and creativity? Please provide examples.

In 2021, Justin pioneered the development of TORC, a design-build-fly drone competition within Triple Helix; this program enabled us to maintain student and mentor engagement through the pandemic. Through instructional videos, written documentation, and in-person assistance, J led his peers to develop valuable new skills while working within the bounds of meeting restrictions. J is forward-thinking in regards to presenting our team to our community; he led the design & fabrication of a mini-bot for demos, and has led his peers in contributions to fundraising and grantwriting. As a key contributor to our outreach program, J provides essential assistance with events such as university STEM Days, FLL Kickoffs, demonstrations at air shows, FLL mock judging sessions, activity fairs, and more.

Explain the student’s leadership to their fellow team members. How do they motivate others? What is their leadership style? Please provide examples.

Concurrent with his full-time job as a dedicated and high-performing HS student, Justin serves as Triple Helix’s student captain, having naturally grown into this role since taking on a key design leadership responsibility as an 8th-grader. J’s key strengths as a team leader are his proactiveness in recognizing emerging problems and his drive to implement simple, effective solutions without being asked. During the 2021 season, J’s focus on getting things done and being good stewards of limited team resources were essential to the team’s successes in the At Home challenges. Teammates often seek J’s advice and help. J seeks out opportunities to pass on his skills to new students, leading them to prototype and assemble new mechanisms such as 2022 swerve modules.

Dean’s List 2022: Joshua N

Triple Helix mentors are proud to submit the following Dean’s List Award nomination for lead programming student Joshua N, of the class of 2023.

Explain how the student embodies the philosophies of Gracious Professionalism and Coopetition through the FIRST Core Values: Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork and Fun. Please provide examples.

Joshua’s dedication to the FIRST Core Values began in FLL and was cemented by his experience of competing at the World Festival three times. FIRST is a natural fit for J, giving him an outlet to explore his natural love of learning, curiosity, innovative thinking, and desire to be part of a STEM community. Driven by his passion for discovery and innovation, his skill and expertise has led to in-depth explorations of graduate-level mechatronics and controls concepts. J has had a tremendous impact on the FIRST community by mentoring 19 FLL and 3 Jr. FLL teams and by sharing his technical contributions as a gracious professional. J embraces the value of inclusion and has focused the majority of his mentoring in under-served areas.

How has the student increased the awareness of FIRST? Describe the student’s interests and/or plans to continue to engage with FIRST beyond high school. Please provide examples.

For the past 9 years, Joshua has expanded awareness of FIRST through his over 900 hours of outreach and mentoring in his community. J’s primary achievements have included his development of (1) robotics summer camps focusing on underserved populations, and (2) a training program for local FLL coaches. J’s work has also included starting and coaching two FLL teams, participating in over 100 community presentation/demo activities, teaching programming classes in local homeschooling co-ops, and assisting in organizing a Jr. FLL expo at a local STEM festival.

Having been involved with FIRST for most of his life, after graduation J plans to volunteer as a judge at FIRST events as well as mentor FRC teams. J has already started volunteering at local, state, and global FTC and FLL tournaments.

Describe the student’s technical expertise, using specific examples in the areas of programming, electronics, design, fabrication, making, illustrating how these skills have contributed to the team’s success. Please provide examples.

Experienced programming mentor Kim Flynn of FRC 1923 states that Joshua is “one of the two people pushing forward a new frontier in FRC software we’ve never seen; and he’s a student outpacing industry professionals.” J’s landmark accomplishments as leader of the programming subteam have been to (1) overhaul our approach to autonomous path planning and trajectory following for both differential-drive and swerve-drive robots and (2) implement advanced award-winning control techniques. J’s generation of time-optimized trajectories which obey physical constraints placed 2363 as the 39th top scorer among 1,412 teams worldwide in the 2021 FRC challenges. By open-sourcing this work and freely discussing it on the FRC Discord, J has also demonstrated that 2363 is a center of expertise in this area.

How does the student’s individual contributions to the team benefit the team as a whole in the areas of fundraising, outreach, entrepreneurship, and creativity? Please provide examples.

Joshua’s involvement now forms the cornerstone of Triple Helix’s outreach efforts, and has resulted in an increased partnership with our school district’s STEM Department to deliver an organized mentoring program to multiple underserved schools. Because many new students have joined due to his mentoring, J also has a core role in our student recruitment strategy.

In addition to this mentoring effort, J has also organized unique events such as FLL Kickoffs and Coopertition Days, has consistently participated in most of Triple Helix’s 62 outreach events in the past 5 years, and has embarked on outreach efforts of his own. J has also represented the team in written and in-person communications to sponsors, judges, and community members.

Explain the student’s leadership to their fellow team members. How do they motivate others? What is their leadership style? Please provide examples.

Soon after joining 2363 in 8th grade, the team recognized Joshua as the leader of the team’s programming and scouting efforts. These roles require a conscientiousness, work ethic, and maturity far surpassing those of an average HS student, as well as highly-tuned communication skills. J is a skilled technical communicator in all settings; mentors often find him walking students and adults through his approach to various problems, soliciting feedback from these teammates, and incorporating this feedback to refine his thinking. J instills in his teammates the belief that they can accomplish anything they set out to do, and his tenacity in the face of tough problems, and willingness to push technical boundaries, are an inspiration to his teammates.

Chairman’s Award submission 2020

Triple Helix is proud to publish this essay as part of our submission for the 2020 FIRST Robotics Competition Chairman’s Award.

Triple Helix has evolved to be a STEM leader in the Hampton Roads (HR) community. As such, it is important to evaluate our environment and assess the most pressing needs to address. We determined that our goals should be team sustainability, supporting the larger FIRST community, and spreading the message of FIRST.

BUILDING OUR FOUNDATION – TEAM SUSTAINABILITY

We first tackled the need to develop a strategic plan for the team’s sustainability. Our approach includes an emphasis on student leadership, strong recruitment, an open door policy, and funding through our nonprofit organization, the Intentional Innovation Foundation (IIF)

To address financial sustainability, IIF was created to be a funding umbrella for Triple Helix and Rumble in the Roads. In March 2015, it became apparent that there was a need to give a corporate structure to Triple Helix’s efforts independent of our school. Triple Helix mentors and supporters established IIF to meet  the needs of the team and to enable the organization to serve a larger community by operating and sponsoring STEM education activities throughout HR. IIF is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity and an all-volunteer organization. Establishing a nonprofit opened the door to funding opportunities only available to nonprofits.

We address the team’s need for a continuous influx of new students as we lose students who graduate by conducting a number of outreach events at local schools focusing on students who participate in FLL and FTC, hold multiple open houses, and participate in events at our school such as Back to School Night and the activities fair. Triple Helix is committed to providing an opportunity for all students to participate on an FRC team. We allow students to join who go to other schools that do not have a team and also those who attend private schools or are homeschooled.

To address the need to retain students and develop student’s leadership skills, we have developed a new student presentation and have a detailed training plan for learning team equipment. The team has developed a structure based on students taking on a number of leadership positions. There is an overall team captain and leaders for each of the subteams such as mechanical, programming, and scouting. Due to their experience on Triple Helix, 86% of our team members go on to pursue a degree in a STEM field from institutions such as Virginia Tech.

In order to address the need to recruit and retain mentors, we engage with local businesses and sponsors to raise awareness of Triple Helix and our strong program. Because we are a known leader in the STEM community, we attract FIRST alumni that want to return to the program as mentors. Over 40% of our current mentors participated in one or more FIRST programs as a student. We also maximize our use of the varied skill sets of the parents who fill roles from programming mentor to outreach and scouting mentor.

SUPPORTING FIRST PROGRAMS

The team evaluated how to best support the FIRST community with our given resources and skill sets and we determined that our efforts would be best spent in supporting and sustaining existing teams. Our widest reaching effort is sharing best practices and lessons learned with the worldwide community via videos and publications. We created a YouTube channel in 2013, where we began posting build season logs and match videos. We have expanded into videos for drive team development and mechanical video tutorials, like how to build bumpers or a drivetrain. Our goal is to help rookie teams with robot development, and to share videos of tested engineering and our team practices. For example, our 2018 Gripper Prototype video has had over 49,000 views. Our website has a plethora of publications for teams to utilize for team management and robot development. Our published budget provides insight on the inner administrative workings of an active FRC team.

Our primary regional effort is our annual off-season competition, Rumble in the Roads, which we host with partner teams 1610 and 5957. The event attracts over 30 teams from VA, NC, and MD. The pre-season event gives teams the opportunity to test new designs, provides practice for the drive team, as well as the opportunity to interact with other teams in a more relaxed competitive environment. This event is our largest outreach event, with over 300 visitors in 2019. It also provides an incredible opportunity to network with local community leaders and sponsors. Judges include high school teachers, university professors, professional engineers, and even the COO of NASA Langley Research Center. To make Rumble accessible to rookie teams, we often waive their competition fees.

To address the needs of our local FIRST teams, we have sponsored several HR FRC summits. These meetings were an opportunity for teams to come together to share ideas and updates. The team also sponsored a roundtable discussion at Christopher Newport University (CNU) where all levels of FIRST teams came together to discuss the expansion of FIRST teams in our community and the challenges that they were facing. 

As we looked at the challenges of our team and other local teams, it became clear that a practice facility was our next major goal. In 2018, we established the Peninsula STEM Gym. Attached to a community woodworking makerspace, it is a multifaceted collaborative workspace that caters to all levels of FIRST teams. We have an FRC playing field, an FTC playing field sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding, and space available for FLL teams to set up and collaborate. Local FRC and FTC teams used the STEM gym as a workspace for a collaboration with the Newport News Police Department (NNPD) on a robot for their shooting range. Triple Helix recently hosted the FLL Kickoff at the STEM Gym. The kickoff gave local teams an opportunity to review the playing field, discuss robot design options, and talk to experts regarding their projects. Local FTC and FRC teams have used the space to test their robots and practice at least 30 times since its establishment.

Triple Helix also provides targeted support to local teams based on their needs. During local FRC team 122’s hiatus year, we took in students and mentors who still wanted to participate on a team, and helped 122 reestablish the following year. We started a partnership with Newport News Public Schools to expand opportunities for students to participate in FLL and FLL Jr. teams. On a weekly basis we have mentored two FLL teams. We held an FLL practice day at Rumble to allow teams an opportunity to practice both judging and running their robot on the field. We started and coached an FLL Jr. team at BC Charles Elementary School. We also run an FLL Jr. Expo to give local teams an opportunity to compete. On multiple occasions, we have hosted FLL teams at our shop and have provided them with tours and information. For the past two years, we have invited The Waffle Bunnies to come to a meeting and practice their project presentation. This practice helped the team to earn a spot at the 2020 FIRST Championship.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Our next focus was on our sponsors and local community. We wanted to address how to best expand the awareness of STEM and FIRST in our community, support our sponsors, and give back. Triple Helix plays an active role in the local FIRST community. In the last five years alone, we have attended over 125 community demonstrations and sponsor-hosted events. The events vary from large such as the CNU Community STEM Day, showcasing our team and robot to over 4,000 visitors, to small such as Mad Science Night at Baron Elementary School. We  regularly provide laptops and FLL mats for STEM events in the community, such as summer programming workshops for ESL, Refugee children, and a homeless shelter. 

Triple Helix values our sponsor relationships. In 2016, we partnered with sponsor Jefferson Lab to host the HR FRC Kickoff. We later worked with them to 3D print parts that were needed for their GlueX Experiment. In 2017, team members had an opportunity to tour Continental Corporation’s Newport News facility and to demonstrate the robot to their staff. They later became a team sponsor. In 2017, NASA and Boeing invited us to the NASA Langley Centennial Gala. Student leaders mingled with industry officials, made professional connections, and participated in a milestone event. We have presented to AFCEA’s HR chapter at Langley AFB on our team’s strategies and structure. Team members lend manpower to support such activities of sponsors like the Junior Woman’s Club of Hilton Village and Community Knights.

Giving back is an important part of the mission of Triple Helix. Triple Helix is a certifying organization of the President’s Volunteer Service Award to reward students who volunteer in support of our sponsors and community. This year, the team assisted the NNPD by weaving mats for the homeless out of plastic bags.

Last year, we also began a partnership with the VCU Occupational Therapy (OT) program. Each year, a doctoral student will work as a mentor on the team in an effort to intersect the engineering skills of our team members with the therapy skills of the student. The three goals of the partnership are to produce a novel assistive technology (AT) project each year, develop the team as a resource for local AT agencies, and disseminate knowledge learned via a FIRST conference and OT publications. The first year, we worked with the Children’s Assistive Technology Service (CATS) program to adapt a toy car for a child with mobility impairments. The goal is to allow children too young for an electric wheelchair to have the ability to explore. Currently, we have two more cars that we will be adapting after build season, and students are adapting Nerf guns to enable play for children with a variety of limiting conditions.

IT’S IN OUR GENES

Our efforts have truly been impactful on the team and our FIRST community. We really are “more than just robots.”