From inner tubes to high energy lasers

Engineer's journey to a high-tech career highlights value of FIRST Robotics contest

A Raytheon-sponsored team

A Raytheon-sponsored team, The Vitruvian Bots, prepares for a competition-filled weekend at the FIRST Robotics Los Angeles Regionals. (Download High Resolution Image)

In high school, Brandon Ioki had no way of knowing that building an inner tube-throwing-robot for the FIRST Robotics competition would someday lead to an exciting career working on high-energy lasers.

“FIRST Robotics really helped me figure out what kind of engineer I wanted to be,” said Ioki, a mechanical engineer at Raytheon. “Then it was my mentors who helped me understand real-world engineering.”

Building on a decade of support, Raytheon sponsored 16 teams at the Los Angeles FIRST Regionals, a robotics competition aimed to inspire students to be science and technology leaders. Ioki now takes on the role of mentor with his former high school team, challenging students to build robots that use both offensive and defensive moves to gain points and block scores.

Alongside Ioki in this journey is Ben Graham, one of Ioki’s FIRST mentors and now, senior program manager at Raytheon.

“Brandon’s experience –from high school FIRST competitor to now an engineer and FIRST mentor– is truly the ultimate goal,” said Graham. “He’s come full circle, and is continuing the cycle of inspiring kids to see engineering as a realistic career goal.”

Don’t Like Math? No problem
Surprisingly, Ioki’s favorite or best subject isn’t math. Classroom math is actually not a favorite subject among many engineers, and that’s ok.

“What’s important is that you’re curious,” said Ioki. “Growing up, I always wanted to know how things worked, how they went together. That’s essentially a mechanical engineer.”

More than working solution sets on a piece of paper, students are applying their knowledge to design and build a robot that can win competitions. Students learn firsthand how science, technology engineering and math help them transform an idea into a physical form.

Just try it, and remember, be confident
Sometimes you just have to try things to know what you like. The beauty of FIRST Robotics is it’s not just about engineering.

Students get a feel for all types of careers –engineering, program management, strategy development, finance, public relations. Everyone has a role.

“The bottom line is, just become involved, and figure it out as you go,” said Graham. “Along the way, if you only remember one takeaway about engineers it’s, we build the stuff that make things work.”

Published On: 03/23/2017
Last Updated: 01/26/2018