While I’ve never been involved with FRC, I have spent 2 seasons in FLL and 3 seasons in FVC/FTC, so I’m heavily immersed in FIRST. The team attended 2 Championships in Atlanta, so we have a little taste of what FRC is like.
Things I like about FIRST
*]There seems to be a greater emphasis on process, as well as product. FLL’s Director’s Award (and I imagine the Chairman’s Award) always kept the team thinking about more than just the robot – teamwork and the learning process have been prime. Interviews/judging at FIRST events seems more streamlined and standardized. Our VRC teams keep a detailed journal/notebook, but when the teams have offered it to the judges, at 2 VRC events, they’ve been told, “No thanks, we won’t need to see it.” At one event, there was no interview at all, so the criteria for the Excellence Award at that event were unknown to me.
*]FIRST has somehow managed to incorporate women and girls to a greater extent. While I saw a respectable number of girls at VRC Worlds in 2009, this has not been true locally – at 3 of 4 VRC events we attended, our 3-4 girls were the only girls I saw all day. I do have a female coach “buddy” who ran tournaments last year, but she may not be back this year. Notably absent is the cadre of “team moms” and female administrators (some of whom are technically strong as well) that are prominent in FRC – so far, I have not found the “analogs” of Jenny Beatty, Kathie Kentfield, Jane Young, Jessica Boucher or Kim O’Toole Eckert in the VRC community. These women were an inspiration to me and my girls in the early years, and I’m sure an inspiration to many others as well. VRC (or any institution) should NOT try to recruit women “just to get women” but the question is, “Why do women gravitate to FIRST and not as much to VRC?”
Things I like about VRC
*]Cost, as well as accessibility to teams without strong technical mentorship, are obvious advantages. Several years ago, I was offered a $5000 grant to start an FRC team, but I knew that 4 students and a mom and in garage without power tools would not cut it in the technical department. We have more students, still no other tech mentors (besides me), still no power tools, but we’ve been quite satisfied with how we’ve performed, even against better coached, better funded teams. The low administrative fees easily allows for multiple teams at a site, giving the “hands on” opportunity to more students.
*]VRC has an incredible rapid response time – make a suggestion, and it’s incorporated as soon as reasonably possible. There seems to be a minimum of administrative red tape, resulting in not only lower costs, but also more events. I realize that there is a trade-off to this (related to # 1 above), but it seems that overall, VRC is constantly improving and I have no doubt that with time, this issue will be hammered out, too.
*]I love the international flavor of VRC – there is a wide variety of nations represented both in absolute numbers and a proportional sense. No one ever wonders, “Is the big Championship event Nationals or Worlds?”
Lots to like about both programs, and though there will never be a “perfect” fit, it’s nice to have a number of good options.