An Inspiring Family Finds FIRST, and a Modern Roboticist Flourishes


When it comes to Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM), for the Smiths, living in Lithonia, Georgia, learning and growth is all in the family.

Timothy Smith, a technology executive at Dispersive Networks, is a father of three, whose wife Shanna set aside her career as an Engineer to homeschool their two daughters and one son. For the Smiths, the education and experiences of their children was and continues to remain their top priority, and their investment is paying off as their oldest, Tymirra Smith (age 21) prepares to graduate from Georgia Tech in Spring 2019 with a degree in industrial design, and a desire to develop smart protheses employing robotics as part of orthopedic medicine and healing.

Her siblings, Shaneese (age 13) and Quincy (age 18) are following in their older sisters’ footsteps while finding their own passions, by participating in programs sponsored by FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

These mentor-based programs related to science and technology were founded in 1989, and as pioneers in STEM, this non-profit public charity arranges innovative programs for young people to seek education as well as career opportunities in the field of science, engineering, technology and math.

“Tymirra was passionate about science and technology from the beginning,” Tim Smith said, “and gravitated towards FIRST immediately.”

Smith, who runs IT for Dispersive Networks, a fast-growing software-based networking company based in Alpharetta, and who also helps implement the company’s technology in large deployments for mission critical industries, said “My daughter and kids, and their generation are so much smarter than me! They are so quick to learn new things and create. It’s been amazing to see what all the teams at FIRST come up with. The projects are complex and based on established limitations, so all the kids compete on an even playing field.”

Smith was so enamored of the program, that he began to mentor as a technology professional, even after Tymirra left for college on a scholarship from Georgia Tech, one of the best technology universities in the world.

“Not only did we enroll our other kids in the program,” Smith said, “but I started to do everything I could after work and on weekends to make sure more kids had access to their programs and events. Sometimes that meant reviewing their project plans, programming, designs, sometimes that meant helping them buy tools and parts, and sometimes that meant simply helping them with transportation and life logistics.”

Smith has been volunteering now over ten years.

The major focus of FIRST is towards gracious professionalism, which is a way of accomplishing things that strengthen high-quality work, emphasizes value of others and respects other individuals and communities.

With this professionalism in practice, FIRST believes that the outcome will produce professionals who will learn and compete in intense level while treating one another with respect.

According to the founder, Dean Kamen, FIRST has set its vision to “transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Various programs are organized for kids falling under K-12 grades and they are categorized as FIRST Lego League JR for grades K4, FIRST Lego League for grades 4 to 8, FIRST Tech Challenge for grades 7 to 12 and FIRST Robotics Competition for grades 9 to 12. In the FIRST Lego League JR, young curiosities are captured by exploring real-world scientific challenges, learning teamwork and working with motorized Lego elements.

FIRST Lego League concentrates on elementary and middle school-aged students research a real-world engineering challenge, develop a solution and compete with Lego based robots of their own design. In FIRST Tech Challenge, teams of middle and high school-aged students are challenged to design, build and program a robot to play a floor game against other team’s creations.

Finally, in the FIRST Robotics Competition, high -school aged students compete head to head on a special playing field with the robots that they have designed, built and programmed.

Volunteers like Smith are the key to making all these programs a huge success. FIRST accept volunteers from around the globe for every program; they make up 99% of the workforce.

Mentors and coaches are also the key to the success of various programs organized by FIRST as they are brain behind any team’s work. FIRST senior mentor program consists of highly skilled and talented technical and non-technical individuals whose focus will be on recruiting, supporting and expanding the programs.

“Robotics is such an exciting area, full of potential,” Smith said. “We help shape the future when kids are involved, at the earliest age possible, with their young brains able to absorb and retain information. They build incredible skills – and confidence.”

“Quote from Tymirra” about starting on the girls team and wishing to continue through middle school and into high school.

“I left work one day and picked my daughter up as she was finishing one of her first robots,” Smith said. “She convinced me to come more often, and as I saw her passion for doing this, and her determination, I became more active. She never gave up. Regardless of obstacles, she overcame them and moved on and up – doing everything required, including conceptualizing the robots, building them physically with metals, plastics and sensors, then doing the programming.”

Tymirra got her brother and sister involved, and today Quincy is a freshman at Georgia Tech, also on an academic scholarship. Youngest daughter Shaneese will be part of a team EVE #7415 in 2019.

Smith is grateful for the experiences and support from FIRST.

“This program gives families time to work with kids and help shape the future. Not everybody has the opportunity to be exposed to programs like this, but fortunately FIRST is growing from a national to a global organization, with two different world championships.”  

In the new year, Smith will “continue doing what I’ve always done – help with tech, programming, running a project, bringing in parts and equipment, or just helping kids get to the classes and events. It is so satisfying to see these kids pick up these skill sets. I have met so many smart kids in the process. I recommend FIRST and other STEM programs to all parents, because this broadens and expands their minds. Whether or not they continue in science, technology, engineering or math, there is nothing they are learning that they can’t use.”

Smith and his wife also made sure their children were getting good grades across all subjects. “Working on robotics became the reward!  When they got their homework done, they got to build robots!”

The key core values of FIRST are defined as discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun.

FIRST believes in discovery from exploration of new skills and ideas, innovation from the use of creativity and persistence to solve problems. FIRST apply what they learn to improve the world. From respecting each other to embracing differences of teams to form better and stronger team, FIRST has been inspiring students globally to love what they do.

In collaboration with Qualcomm Incorporated, this year’s FIRST Championship was presented as the world’s largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and math for students from around the globe.

FIRST also offers scholarship opportunities to various programs every year and new scholarships are available through April. The scholarships are offered and administered by the listed providers and all the applications are submitted back to the providers.

Learn more about FIRST here, and about Dispersive Networks here.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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