A Posse Like No Other Takes St. Louis by Storm
At a towering 630 feet, the Gateway Arch anchored on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. Louis has no doubt welcomed millions of visitors to the city since its opening in 1967.
On April 22, 2015, the grand monument added to its impressive guest list a very special team of robot innovators hailing from the Minneapolis area. On that sunny day, the Ponytail Posse rode into town – taking names and lots and lots of snaps.
The all-girl team of five ninth-graders and one eighth-grader arrived with three parent mentors to attend the April 22 – 25 FIRST Championship, three days of competitions featuring teen competitors in robotics design from across the globe.
While the Posse didn’t come to compete, they nonetheless had a very special role to play throughout the event. They were there as FedEx Innovation Ambassadors. FedEx has supported FIRST for 14 years through transportation donation and cash grants, but this was the first time the company awarded the Innovation Ambassador prize.
The Posse’s ambassadorships didn’t come easy. In early April, they won an online Innovation Challenge created and sponsored by FedEx. Demonstrating fearless creativity, their contest entries led to winning the grand prize, a trip for the team and mentors to St. Louis, and VIP access to championship venues along with exciting activities in the area.
“We saw some of the most creative and engaging entries imaginable throughout all phases of the FedEx Innovation Challenge,” said Jason Baker, FedEx corporate communications lead at the event. “Judging was really, really difficult, but The Ponytail Posse simply blew us away.”
“We could not have picked a better team to be our FedEx Innovation Ambassadors,” he added.
Regaled with purple jackets, sashes and swag, the Posse set off on whirlwind tours of the competition venues, Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Science Center, a Boeing production facility and area attractions.
The team also rubbed shoulders with Dean Kamen, entrepreneur and founder of FIRST, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and FedEx leaders attending the competition.
Galloping along on a jam-packed schedule, the Posse won over everyone they encountered with their enthusiasm, team spirit and good humor.
Much More than Robotics
For teams participating in FIRST, preparing for and taking part in competitions is much more than designing robots. It’s an endeavor that helps prepare students for the real world. It’s also something the FIRST organization takes great pride in and is much appreciated by students, coaches and parents.
“FIRST is so well-rounded,” said mentor Krispen, mom to Posse member, Rose. “It includes the development of so many skills students will need in the future like understanding the importance of team work and research, making decisions collaboratively, developing business plans and public speaking skills and so much more.”
“Participating in FIRST has helped me become more confident and improved my communication skills,” said Posse member Sabriyah. “I make better connections with people and enjoy speaking to businesses about sponsoring our team.”
Rose said FIRST has helped spur her career aspirations. “It’s introduced me to programming, coding and web design, fields I want to go for.”
“These students are passionate about the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields,” said Cisco Sanchez, IT vice president at FedEx. “It has been inspiring to see the next generation build, participate and collaborate with others while establishing higher confidence as young adults.”
Social Media Masters
When it comes to the Ponytail Posse, one thing is perfectly clear: they are masters of social media. Throughout their stay, they logged each activity through live Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts and interacted with friends, FedEx and event attendees.
“The Posse has really been surprised by the community of FIRST robotics teams,” said Norton, Posse mentor and father of team member Rose. “In the more advanced programs of FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), everybody is talking to each other and helping each other on social media.”
“There is a camaraderie with all FIRST teams and I think that is really unique to the program,” he added.
The Ponytail Posse began in 2009 as a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team of fourth- and fifth-grade girls. They graduated from FLL in 2014 and transitioned to the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). With the 2015 season wrapped up, the Posse is busy planning for next season’s competitions.
Visit the Posse’s site here.
Founded by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, FIRST’s mission is to show students of every age that science, technology and problem-solving are fun, rewarding and can provide strong paths to successful careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). Go here to learn more.
About the St. Louis FIRST Competition
The April 22 – 24 St. Louis event included the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Championship, the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) World Championship and the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) World Festival.