• Q&A with Marlene McGraw

    FIRST® Robotics Competition participant

    Marlene McGraw - First Robotics
    Marlene McGraw

    Marlene McGraw, a rising junior at Riverbend High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is one of nearly 75,000 high school students (grades 9-12) across the world who are actively involved in FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition (FRC) teams in their local communities. McGraw’s Team 339, Kilroy Robotics, is one of approximately 3,000 FRC teams that annually prepare to compete in regional and qualifying events with aims of reaching the FIRST Championship.

    At the FIRST Championship, held annually in St. Louis, Missouri, the top FRC teams put the robots they’ve designed and built to the test in various competitions, collaborate with professional engineers, and seek to gain valuable college scholarships. ISA and the Automation Federation are strategic alliance partners of FIRST.

    Please introduce yourself and explain how you became involved in FIRST.

    My name is Marlene McGraw, and I am currently a rising junior at Riverbend High School in Virginia. My father is in the military, so because of that I was living in Louisiana last year. That’s when I signed up for an engineering class on a whim. My teacher was fabulous and I immediately joined the FIRST robotics team there—Team 2992, the S.S. Prometheus. It sparked a real passion in me. I enjoyed being part of a team, solving problems and challenges as an engineer, applying STEM principles, and learning new skills that would help the team work together more effectively.

    Tell us about your current FRC team and how it’s organized.

    My current FRC team is Team 339, Kilroy Robotics. It’s dedicated to introducing, organizing and running competitive robotics in King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford counties. It also has a FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team in the works that will enable younger members (grades 7-12) get more involved in robotics before entering the FRC field. Our team is comprised of many sub-teams, the two largest being the Programming sub-team and the Build and Design sub-team. We also have a Wiring sub-team, along with multiple individuals who manage PR and Media, Spirit, and Awards. All of these sub-teams allow specialization of individuals in a certain tasks and help our team to function in a well-rounded manner.

    What about your role on the team. What are your primary responsibilities?

    I am a programmer for Kilroy Robotics, so I am assigned a task, possibly with partner, and then must figure out the most effective approach to the problem while streamlining the code so that it is easy to read and interpret. I also have to write comments to explain all of that code, of course.

    How has being involved in FIRST benefited you personally?

    Being a part of both FRC teams, Team 2992 and Team 339, has helped me to learn to manage and oversee group tasks over extended periods of time. It’s also taught me how to effectively work on a team while improving my individual skills and knowledge and to be willing to reach out for assistance when necessary.

    What suggestions would you give to other young people considering joining an FRC team or getting started with one?

    I would have three suggestions. They are:

    1. Never expect the first method you choose to be perfect; robots are constant works in progress. Be prepared and have more than one idea to return to when the first doesn't work or needs adjustment.
    2. Be prepared to learn. Robotics and automation require continued learning. You’re constantly adapting to new information, new designs, and changes to the robot and plan. It's an ever-changing learning experience.
    3. Have fun with it! Robotics is enjoyable and the people that you encounter are all interesting characters in their own right. Enjoy the fact that you're making a robot. I mean robots are being used to perform important functions, whether it’s building cars or performing surgery.  That's pretty cool.