Dean’s list

Ian Graham credits FIRST Robotics with changing his career path and teaching him valuable life lessons. “FIRST provided me with more confidence to meet challenges in and out of school,” says Graham, 19, now a second-year Waterloo University engineering student. “It made the transition to university much easier to handle.”

In 2010, the Sault Ste. Marie native was on the inaugural FIRST Dean's List - 10 student leaders chosen from among 50,000 participants worldwide. To make the Dean’s List, students must be “a great example of leading their teams and communities to increased awareness for FIRST and its mission.” They are nominated by their team.

At the time, Graham was a Grade 12 student from Korah Collegiate and Vocational School (Algoma DSB) in Sault Ste. Marie. “It was amazing to be recognized for the hard work I put into the team,” he says. “But all the students are deserving for the time they spend during the six-week building period. When something needed to get done, we got it done.”

Another lesson Graham learned in his four years in FIRST is the importance of co-operation. He explains: “If people don’t get along, you don’t get anywhere. You need to sort out any conflicts. You can’t build a robot on your own.”

Graham caught the computer science bug as a programmer in Grade 8. He always wanted to attend Waterloo, but the FIRST experience of building a robot led him to switch focus from software to mechanical and electrical engineering.

Jokingly, Graham describes FIRST Robotics as a “sports competition for nerds.” But on a serious note, he praises the program for introducing kids to the world of technology and offering practical training not normally available in classrooms.

Graham is so dedicated to FIRST that he arranged his compulsory Waterloo co-op work placement to take place in Sault Ste. Marie during the robot-building phase. He helped out his former high school team every day after work, well into the evenings and on weekends. “I want to be a mentor and help kids the way mentors helped me,” he says.

Spoken like a deserving member of the Dean’s List.