Ask anyone in Perficient’s Denver office and they’re sure to tell you: If you get Adam Bryant talking about the FIRST Robotics Competition, it’s hard to get him to stop.
Dig deeper into his decade of experience as a mentor and the impact it’s had on his personal and professional life, and you begin to understand why he’s so passionate about the subject.
FIRST is an international high school robotics competition that gives students real-world engineering experience. Adam got into the competition completely by chance. He’s involved in a model airplane club, and his fellow members had decided to assist a youth corrections facility, Ridge View Academy in Watkins, Colorado, near the club’s flying field.
At the time, Ridge View was launching a robotics program, and the school needed volunteers to lead it. Adam had been learning about electronics and robotics on his own since his college days and knew immediately that it was something he could lend a hand with.
Preparations for FIRST involve designing and building a robot completely from scratch in six weeks. Adam, a lead technical consultant at Perficient, got on board to assist with programming, specifically the robot’s sensors and navigation.
Every year at Ridge View he works with a new team of students, and every year they start from the beginning. Many of the students have never programmed before, never soldered two wires together, never handled a screw driver, never seen a robot. So, instruction is required at the most basic levels of robotics and science. But, as Adam has discovered, the need often runs much deeper than technical lessons.
Students often land in Ridge View for drug-related issues, petty theft or other juvenile offenses. The academy is dedicated to positively changing the lives and future of the youth enrolled, and Adam has found himself very much a part of that effort through the robotics training.
“The biggest part of the job is to show kids that there’s a bigger world out there related to science and technology that they can be a part of and make a good living without having to look over their shoulders,” Adam says.
Not all of the students want to learn, but that’s not something that deters Adam. It makes him push harder.
“At Ridge View, you get active disinterest in learning something new. Those are my favorite students because those are the ones that catch the bug hard when they catch it.”
It’s just a matter of showing them. When you see the spark go off in their eyes, it’s an amazing thing.”
Over the course of a FIRST season, Adam typically works with about 30 students at Ridge View. In addition to the academy, he also trains students for FIRST at two Colorado-area high schools, where he’s worked for three and five years respectively. In the past 10 years, he’s worked with 500 to 600 students, and his teams have been to the finals four times.
Along the way, Adam’s helped to inspire and shape his students’ lives, and they’ve done the same for him.
“You would not believe how much I learn,” he says.
His experience as a mentor has helped him work more effectively with entry-level programmers and become a stronger leader.
For as much as he’s learned, though, the most rewarding part is always helping the students succeed. Adam has seen many from his teams go on to tech schools and land great jobs in the oil and gas industries. A recent notable achievement comes from Ridge View, where one of the students was a whiz in mathematics, but teenage impulses had gotten him in trouble with the law. The student ended up making a contact with the Colorado School of Mines and landed a scholarship. He ultimately moved on to another school but graduated this past spring.
“If I can help one of these kids stay out of trouble in the future, it’s worth whatever time I have to spend to do that,” he says.