Building robots to build character and STEM talent with FIRST® Robotics

April 7, 2017

At first, it was “Oh robots, cool! I want to help kids build that,” said Zhiquan (who goes by ZQ) Yeo, Bloomberg Engineer and mentor for FIRST® Robotics Team 354 from George Westinghouse High School. But it soon evolved into “Wow, these kids have so much potential, I really want to help them grow and shape their future.”

Bloomberg has increasingly been involved with the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC) since 2004. Engineers at Bloomberg, like ZQ, were especially interested in contributing their technical skills to local communities in a meaningful way. Many soon realize that the most rewarding experience is witnessing the students’ character development and growing excitement for solving problems with technology.

Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, a strong supporter of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) education and providing students access to pursue STEAM careers – Bloomberg sponsored 18 FIRST® Robotics teams this year for more than 500 high school students from high-need communities in New York City, Trenton (New Jersey), San Francisco and London.

Over 60 Bloomberg employees from engineering and other departments volunteer their time and talents to mentor these teams. They provide guidance on real-world engineering and teamwork skills throughout the six week competition as the student teams each build an industrial-size robot for field battles against other robots.

Bloomberg mentors teach basic programming techniques, often to high school students with no prior programming experience, to come up with algorithms and run the robot in autonomous mode. In addition, these volunteer mentors are working with students in designing and constructing their robot, serving as a sounding board for students to discuss their ideas and feasibility.


ZQ recalls, “The coolest thing is not the robot, but actually watching all the kids team up to build the robot and come up with their own ideas.” Bloomberg employees become not just a mentor in robotics but also an advocate, offering the students encouragement and advice in life and career paths.


Bloomberg Engineer and mentor for Team 2895 from Queens Information Research and Technology High School, Joseph Pokorny mentions, “The students’ contributions and creative problem solving skills mature rapidly as their dependency on you dwindles. And you can really see this new self-confidence emerge from the quiet and shy person they once were.”

Furthermore, it is truly a partnership between Bloomberg, our employee volunteers and the school. Joel Bianchi, Coach of Team 1660 Harlem Knights from Frederick Douglass Academy comments, “It’s really transformed our team since Bloomberg has come on as a mentor; it took our team to the next level.”

Our involvement in FRC not only supports the teams we sponsor and mentor, but also making opportunities available to students. Over the past 3 years, we’ve had 6 FIRST® Robotics student competitors as high school summer interns at Bloomberg. Four are returning to intern with us this summer. Another former intern and FIRST® competitor, Stephon Lawrence, is now working part-time at Bloomberg in Engineering while attending Brooklyn College. Additionally, he mentors Bloomberg sponsored FRC Team 369 from William Grady and Rachel Carson High Schools.

This season, five of our sponsored FRC teams so far have won qualifying regional competitions advancing to the 2017 FRC World Championship in St. Louis, MO held in late April. Our largest group ever! This coming weekend, ten Bloomberg sponsored FRC teams will be competing at the NYC FIRST® Regionals on April 9 to win an invitation to the World Championship.

For more details about our past FRC involvement, check out our 2015 FIRST® Robotics season summary, here.

FIRST® Robotics is a part of Bloomberg Startup, our global education engagement and mentoring program, leveraging Bloomberg’s history as a startup and unique expertise as a technology and data company to support academic achievement and career skills for high school and college students. This signature program combines mentoring programs with a workshop curriculum to create a one of a kind experience and provide access to opportunity and technical skills for our network of students and nonprofit partners.