Mittag Returns to Robotics – This Time as a Mentor


Matt Mittag helps a high school robotics team

As a high school student in Wisconsin, Matt Mittag didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Then he disovered FIRST Robotics and fell in love with the process of making things work. Now, Mittag is a development engineer for Dow in Edina, Minn., and he devotes much of his free time to mentoring the Edina High School FIRST Robotics team as a way to give the next generation a shot at finding that same love. “It’s addictive,” Mittag said of his work with FIRST Robotics. “You get involved and you see what a difference you can make in the lives of so many kids.”

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by entrepreneur Dean Kamen. Its programs include the Junior FIRST Lego League for ages 6 to 9, the FIRST Lego League for ages 9 to 16, the FIRST Tech Challenge for students in grades 7 through 12 and FIRST Robotics for grades 9 through 12.


The Edina team got an opportunity to meet with U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a big supporter of FIRST Robotics.
“A FIRST Robotics meet has the atmosphere of a sporting event,” Mittag said. “Except that at a sporting event, everybody is cheering for one team or the other, but they’re not on the team. At a FIRST Robotics meet, you’ve got maybe 5,000 kids, and they’re all cheering for 40 or 60 teams, and they’re actually on the teams.” Every year, the FIRST organization designs a game that the robots will play during all competitions for that season. Once the season’s game is announced, teams have about six weeks to design, build and test a robot. Teams can have anywhere from four to more than 100 members, but most have several dozen, each focusing on a specific part of the process. Intelligence, know-how, dedication and teamwork are all vital.


Matt Mittage keeps busy during a FIRST Robotics event.
“I joined a FIRST Robotics team when I was a junior in high school because some of my friends were on the team,” Mittag said. “I knew I liked to build things, but I had never had a chance to interface with engineers or anyone in the professional field of engineering. I realized that, hey, this is something I can get into.” That experience was a major reason he chose to study engineering in college, Mittag said. Now he not only mentors the Edina team, he also is specially trained to serve as a robot inspector at competitions. “I’ve seen multiple situations just like mine where students didn’t know what they wanted to go into, and after joining the team, they realized that this engineering thing is kind of fun,” Mittag said. Mittag is one of three Dow employees in the Minneapolis area who mentor FIRST teams. Dow also provides sponsorship – and Dow employees provide guidance – to teams in Michigan, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania and other locations.

 

“It’s an absolute blast,” Mittag said of being a mentor. “I’m in it for the kids, but I’m in it for me, too.. I know in 20 years it’s something I’ll still be doing. It’s exciting, you make a difference and it’s just a heck of a lot of fun.”


Edina team members wear their medals proudly at a FIRST Robotics event.
To learn more about FIRST Robotics, go to http://www.usfirst.org. Or to really experience the thrill of flying beach balls, whirring robots, pounding pop music and screaming teenagers, check out a competition near you. All meets are open to the public, free of charge. Minneapolis hosts two regional competitions March 27 through 29. Midland, Mich., will host its first district competition March 21 and 22 at H.H. Dow High School. Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy will host a district event for the Philadelphia area March 14 and 15. The Lone Star Regional is set for George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston April 4 through 6. The Bayou Regional will be April 3 through 5 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, La. And the season wraps up with the 2014 Championship April 24 to 26 in St. Louis, Mo. A complete list of the year’s meets is online at http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/regional-events.