More than Robots: How Animation Major Amanda Lucas Found her Passion for Art through FIRST
While the mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, it should be said that the FIRST experience extends far beyond “just” robotics. Through Mentor-based programs, students develop science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, but they also cultivate life skills such as self-confidence, communication, and leadership. Even if FIRST participants don’t end up majoring in engineering, many students find their niche in other areas, like art, through their experiences in the program(s). Amanda Lucas, now a sophomore at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia, credits her participation in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for helping her discover her talent in art and animation.
“It’s a common misconception that if you do FIRST, you’re going to end up in a STEM field,” said Amanda. “Yes, it promotes science and technology, but it doesn’t matter what field you want to pursue, because you get these tools that are applicable in any field of study.”
Before becoming a member of her FRC team, Amanda’s father and Mentor of her team FRC Team 836, “The RoboBees,” Mark Lucas described Amanda as a “shy girl” and “an average student without any passion for future areas of study.” Shortly after she joined The RoboBees during her sophomore year of high school, Mark witnessed a remarkable change in his daughter.
“[Amanda] started in FRC as a member of CADD [Computer Aided Design and Drafting], but found her calling the following year as a member of the Public Relations team,” he recalled. “She created the team logo from scratch, and was so good at public speaking and presenting herself, as well as having a gifted skill in drawing and design, she received several scholarships. My hat is off to Dean Kamen, Woodie Flowers, and the rest of the folks who do the hard work at FIRST so that our kids can pursue their passions!”
The summer before her sophomore year of high school, Amanda’s friends told her about how much fun they were having in FRC. Out of curiosity, she attended a leadership building meeting for The RoboBees. Little did she know, the meeting would be a key moment in helping her discover her passions, talents, and self-confidence.
“I was expecting it to be a bunch of lectures, but it was so much more,” said Amanda. “There was camaraderie, laughter, and fun. We did this Human Knot activity and that really cinched it for me — I realized that I didn’t need to be perfect to be a member of this team. I could learn from my mistakes and have a great time doing it, I wasn’t expecting that!”
Amanda had another key learning moment at her first FIRST competition:
“My next big moment was at my first competition, which anyone who has been to a FIRST competition can relate to,” Amanda described, laughing. “All the excitement, the mascots, passing out team buttons, everyone cheering each other on…I realized it’s not all about winning. It’s about making friends, having fun, and learning that it’s OK to mess up. The experience is what matters most.”
With her rookie year under her belt, Amanda went on to hone her interests in communications and design by doing Public Relations for the team.
“Working on the PR team really opened my eyes to the importance and relevance of science and technology in everything,” explained Amanda. “Doing the Chairman’s Award submission that year also showed me that I really enjoyed working on media. These experiences demonstrated that science, technology, and art actually go hand-in-hand. STEM is in everything we do.”
As Amanda found, there are roles for everyone on a FIRST team – technical and non-technical. Everyone brings their individual talents to the table to contribute to the team’s success.
“You constantly use these skills, no matter what you go on to study,” said Amanda. “These aren’t just STEM skills that you’re learning; they are life skills.”
Even though Amanda continued to flex her communications and design chops on the team, she still had to be convinced to submit the team logo design, which remains in her portfolio today. After 10 years of changing logos and mascots, The RoboBees asked students to submit ideas for a logo that would stick. After her peers convinced her to submit a design with only minutes to do so, her design – a bee named “Sting” – was chosen as the official team logo.
Perhaps the most life-altering moment of Amanda’s FIRST experience came while she was working on the team’s Chairman’s Award submission in 2011.
“When I wrote my Chairman’s essay, I started to understand – it just brought it all together,” Amanda said. “Our Mentors told us that we had to tell the story of FIRST and of our team. I realized then that I loved to tell stories, and the stories that we read and share come to shape who we are. I illustrated a children’s book about our team – it was so much fun. I thought ‘what if this was a movie?’ That’s when I realized I wanted to get into animation.”
In 2012, Amanda had the opportunity to see one of her illustrations come to life when she animated Sting for the team’s Chairman’s Award video submission.
“It was so cool to see a character I designed moving and talking, and it made me realize I wanted to be an animator,” said Amanda. “It was a huge moment for me.”
Today Amanda is furthering her talents in animation and illustration at SCAD, where she is taking her time to figure out what kind of job she wants to pursue after she graduates. She knows at least one thing for certain: wherever she ends up, she wants to be a Mentor for an FRC team.
“My Mentors were so inspirational, and I want to play that role in someone else’s life,” she said. “I want to give back to the FIRST community because they made me who I am today, and I want to give back everything I gained from the experience.”
Amanda’s FIRST experience isn’t all that uncommon – she’s even met other FIRST Alumni at SCAD. FRC may be as close to a real-world engineering experience as a student can get, but FIRST is truly about exposing young people to the variety of opportunities available within the realms of STEM – and the landscape is vaster than it may seem.
“Before I joined The RoboBees, I had a lot of doubts about myself and about being an artist,” said Amanda. “I felt like it would be a mistake to go into art because I wouldn’t make any money, or I wouldn’t be able to get a job. I also doubted that I could do anything as an artist on a robotics team. Through my experience, I learned that this is just a misconception. It doesn’t matter what your passion is, you can use your talent to promote math and science. Everything is connected.”
More illustrations by Amanda Lucas: