Our unique position in a magnet high school for government allows us to merge STEM with politics—advocating for FIRST to everyone from school board members to senators. In 2019, we flagshipped the Legislative Open House, our first student-run effort at political advocacy on the local, state and national level. We invited representatives to show our support for STEM and how FIRST Robotics has changed lives. Legislators from US House Rep. Donald McEachin to Senator Mark Warner were represented. We’ve attended the FIRST National Advocacy Conference 3 times, equipping our team with skills that helped jumpstart our VA advocacy program. This year, we met Sen. Warner, Sen. Kaine, Rep. Spanberger and Rep. McEachin at the virtual NAC conference, advocating for increased funding for the ESSA. In recognition of our political efforts, 422 was featured on Team 2468’s nationwide FIRST State Advocacy Summit broadcast. Representing FIRST Chesapeake, we shared our advocacy story and provided tips for all teams about how to start and sustain effective advocacy efforts. This January, we advocated for STEM awareness as marchers in the Governor’s Inaugural Parade.
To bring together teams to learn about advocacy, we planned, led and executed the Virginia Advocacy Conference (VAAC) for FTC and FRC teams across the commonwealth. Teams heard from a panel of VA FRC teams including 1086, 540 and 401, and esteemed presenters Mark Smith, chief liaison of George Mason Univ., and Dean Roberts, board chair of FIRST Chesapeake. The event gave 82 robotics attendees the skills to start their own advocacy programs and a forum to network with other teams. Now, we are leading a group of FRC teams to draft a FIRST Legislative Action Plan that we will present at VAAC in April.