StudentsFIRST Blog
StudentsFIRST Blog

StudentsFIRST Blog

Welcome to all our new members who signed up at Worlds last week!
It was great to meet all of our newest members and to talk in person with members who have already been with StudentsFIRST for a while. Your enthusiasm for prioritizing student education was amazing! I have more confidence than ever that together we can make positive change in the robotics community. Soon I’ll share more about the new ideas that came out of our conversations, but for now please enjoy our photos.

I was also excited to see StudentsFIRST signs and buttons around the pits! Way to represent!

See you at Worlds!

Congratulations to everyone who will be at Worlds next week! I (Robin) will be there, along with fellow officers Gabe Cook and Chloe Smith. We will be hanging out in the park during lunchtime each day with buttons, t-shirts, and more. Come say hi!


February Survey Comments

Thank you to everyone who completed the February survey! Here are some of the comments we received from survey participants

  • Right now, our students come up with the initial ideas, the mentors base a design (CAD model) around that, and then the students build the bot. Programming is harder to say. We have very few students interested in it and it seems like there are not very many resources (or at least easily understandable or accessible ones) for programming
  • Our biggest goals on our team is that we are a student lead team. – Chloe Leaman, Team 5603
  • I wholly believe that the students are the focus, and when they learn, we all win, regardless of how well the robot performs. When you take away either designing, building and/or programming, what then is the point of the organization? I’ve been in this for many years and I still am because of what the students get out of this program, not for trophies and accolades. – John Pyeatt, Team 1828
  • Keep up the good work! – Mark Rocheleau, Team 1277
  • Some teams coaches and mentors have to do more hands on work due to limited resources. – Van Hill, Team 7768
  • As our team’s lead mentor, I’m (perhaps comically) proud to say my students know SO much more about robotics than I do. I just lead in a supporting role and just try to make the “behind the scenes” work (food orders, school finances, travel, etc.) are handled so they can focus on what they do best (which is designing and building robots!). While my lack of expertise might put our team at a disadvantage competitively, it means that our team is able to be truly student-led. And our industry mentors are also really good about supporting with questions/advice without actually doing it for them (and if they weren’t I’d address it!).
  • I am exhausted from having to play against adults. it’s such a farce. All the student built robots don’t stand a chance against a professionally designed and built robot. It makes me sick.
March Survey – How can we help you?

In this month’s survey we’re asking, How can StudentsFIRST help you? The survey has many options plus a write in section. Here are some of the options:

  • Provide an editable template for an Adults Code of Conduct
  • Advocate for your interests with FIRST state, regional and national organizations
  • Be a third party to tell your coaches and mentors about something that is wrong, but you’re afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation

The second question on the survey asks what we should name a robotics league for adults. Clearly, there are many enthusiastic adults looking for outlets for their technical skills and competitive spirit. Here at StudentsFIRST we are kicking around the idea of starting a league for adults. If we do, what do you think it should be called? 
We want to hear from you! Make sure your voice is heard by filling out the March survey today! It’s only 2 questions!

Free Swag!

Show that you think student education should be the focus of robotics teams by wearing StudentsFIRST swag. It’s all free, including the shipping! If you’d like buttons for yourself, your team, or even to share at events, simply email us your name, team number, address, and the quantity of buttons you would like. Contact@StudentsFIRST.tec

After you have your swag, email us photos of you and your team and we will mail you a t-shirt for each person photographed wearing StudentsFIRST buttons and stickers! Just email us the pictures and the quantity and sizes of t-shirts you want. Please know that your photos may be used on our website, newsletters, or other materials.

So far, StudentsFIRST has fulfilled requests for:
17,130 buttons
16,295 stickers
9,121 informational cards
508 signs that say “This team puts StudentsFIRST” for teams to post at their pits
66 t-shirts

Check out our Membership Map!

Thank you to everyone who has joined StudentsFIRST over the last few months. I can’t believe we just started StudentsFIRST in late January. In just about 50 days individuals and teams have joined StudentsFIRST from all over the world. If you haven’t done so already, check out our Membership Map.

Currently, StudentsFIRST members span 30 states and 8 countries.

And, if you haven’t done so already, we invite you to become a member. Membership is free and there are no time commitments. We will email you with opportunities to support student education being the focus of robotics teams, but you’re under no obligation to do anything.

StudentsFIRST Panel at Worlds

StudentsFIRST will have a panel at the World Championships in Houston, Texas. We hope you’ll come and say hi so we can meet and discuss ideas in person. Unfortunately FIRST has not granted us a panel, however we will be hanging out in the park during lunchtime each day. I hope you will come find us and say hello!

Come get buttons and t-shirts! You can also meet StudentsFIRST Founder, Robin Lee, and many of the StudentsFIRST Officers. Date, time and location TBD.

StudentsFIRST Invitational Competitions – Coming Soon!

Does your team put student education first? If so, we hope you’ll join us for the StudentsFIRST Invitational Competitions! We’re currently planning 2 invitational events for this calendar year. Stay tuned for dates and locations!

Congratulations to StudentsFIRST Team 4230, TopperBots, for qualifying for Worlds!


February Survey

Thank you to everyone who participated in the January survey and who shared their thoughts with emails and comments on our website. We heard you all loud and clear!

One common theme that emerged was the idea that students deserve to have agency in how their team is run. If mentors and coaches are building the robot, is that because the students want or need them to? Or because the adults have hijacked the team? It comes down to a question of student agency.

We’re also considering hosting an off-season FRC invitational. Would your team participate?
We also have a question about funding. If adults do most of the work on a team, is that what taxpayer dollars are for? When sponsors fund FIRST, do they know that on some teams there are adults taking over the design and build of the robot?

Also, it’s build season! Who is building your bot? Share your thoughts in our February survey!


Show Your Support!

Show that you think student education should be the focus of robotics teams by wearing a StudentsFIRST button. They’re free! If you’d like buttons for yourself, your team, or even to share at events, simply email us your name, team number, address, and the quantity of buttons you would like.

So far, StudentsFIRST has fulfilled requests for:

10,710 buttons
9,910 stickers
5,095 informational cards
305 signs that say “This team puts StudentsFIRST” for teams to post at their pits

Why be a part of StudentsFIRST?
  • Because educating students should be the focus of robotics teams
  • Because students deserve to have agency on their own teams to decide how much mentor input is okay
  • Because even among mostly heroic coaches and mentors, there are a few bad apples
  • Because FIRST lacks a mechanism to protect students from toxic adults
  • Because students need an advocate, and together we can advocate for students who can’t advocate for themselves.
Who Wants Buttons?!?

StudentsFIRST swag is in! We have free buttons and stickers, and signs for your pit saying “This team puts StudentsFIRST.”

To get your free swag, simply email us your name, team number, address, and how many stickers and buttons you want.

Become a StudentsFIRST Team

Does your team put students first? Let the world know by signing up your team as a member of StudentsFIRST! We’ll email you a sign to put at your pits and our logo so you can put it on your website. If we raise enough money we’ll also send fun buttons and stickers. Click the “Become a Member” button and enter your team’s name.

StudentsFIRST Hall of Fame Awards

While we are working to get students the agency they need to contribute meaningfully on their teams, we also want to acknowledge that the vast majority of mentors and coaches really do put students first. In fact, many mentors, coaches, and volunteers are joining StudentsFIRST because they agree with our goals.

To celebrate coaches, mentors and volunteers who put students first, we are creating a Hall of Fame on our website. If you would like to nominate a great adult on your team for a StudentsFIRST Hall of Fame award, please email me their name, photo, team number, and a paragraph on how they put students first. We will add them to our website on the Hall of Fame page, and we will email you a certificate that you can print and present to them.

Goal #1 Completed! Success is in the Conversation

Since StudentsFIRST launched last week we have met our first goal – to start a conversation about how much adults should be involved in building the robots. There have been lively discussions on many platforms. Maybe it’s just because of our stated purpose, but for every 80 messages I get supporting StudentsFIRST, I only get one message disagreeing with our goal.

We also heard some new comments this week about why adult involvement and behavior should be more controlled. Here are my two favorite new arguments:
#1 Most teams are supported by taxpayer dollars through their school. While FIRST may think it’s fine for adults to do most of the work on some teams, the taxpayers certainly don’t. Education dollars should be spent on experience and education for the students.

#2 FIRST’s rules are out of alignment with their values. The mission of FIRST is for students to learn, but teams where the adults suppress student involvement are not living up to that value. This observation pinpoints the dissonance we all feel between what FIRST says it is, and what it really is. Between the warm fuzzy feelings we get cheering and dancing at a competition, and the yucky lump in your gut when you see adults doing most of the work in the pit next to you. We have felt this dissonance for a very long time, and it’s time to address it.

If FIRST wants to maintain their rules that adults can be on the drive team and there are no limits to adult involvement, then what recourse is available to students when they want to do more and adults won’t let them do it, or even talk about it?

Most mentors and coaches are amazing people who are generous with their time. They truly put students FIRST. To reign in the few bad apples, is it possible we need more explicitly stated rules about toxic coaches and mentors who steamroll students for their own benefit? Is the Youth Protection Program supposed to protect students from this as well, or not?
What do you think? We welcome your comments!


Thank you to everyone for sharing your thoughts! You can read many of the comments we have received so far in our Comments section, and you can also share a comment there.


StudentsFIRST founder, Robin Lee, was a member of Team 2910 Jack-in-the-Bot and was kicked off the team for saying privately that the mentors treat the students like they are “disposable.” The head coach was determined to keep students from discussing the adult overreach that was rampant on the team.

While Robin had kept the team’s secret for years, being kicked off the team created an opportunity to advocate for change. When Robin was expelled from Team 2910, the main violation was of Robin’s First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Robin formed a Freedom of Speech Society in October 2023 to address that issue.

However, the topic of Robin’s speech, adult over-involvement in building robots, resonated strongly with robotics teams all across the United States. Teams with over-involved adults deprive students of the opportunity to learn. Teams that emphasized student learning unfairly compete against mentor-built bots.
Clearly, this issue affects all teams

StudentsFIRST is founded with the following mission:
StudentsFIRST is a group of students and adults working to ensure student education is the focus of robotics teams.

Our goal is to advocate for more equitable competitions, preserve the delight of discovery, build student-centered teams, and live up to FIRST’s values.
StudentsFIRST is not a part of FIRST(c).

I hope you will join us!


Welcome to StudentsFIRST!

So far we have heard from dozens of students and adults across the US about adult-overinvolvement they have experienced or witnessed. StudentsFIRST is dedicated to sharing your voices and ideas with the FIRST organization. We emailed the person we’re working with at FIRST on January 7 to communicate that we’re working on these reform ideas, and to provide the ideas we’ve come up with so far. We’ve communicated to FIRST that we are looking forward to working together to create a program that better serves students.