Build The Future Spotlight: Mechanical Advantage

Taking Advantage of our STEM Skills in Making a Societal Impact

Program: FIRST Tech Challenge
Location: San Diego, California, USA


For our team, Mechanical Advantage, being a force for change means finding ways to use our STEM skills to develop a meaningful and lasting impact in underserved communities, and to find ways to engage students who might not otherwise participate in science programs. We founded and currently run an after-school robotics program that uses FIRST® Tech Challenge robot parts to teach fundamentals about robot design and programming to students living below the federal poverty line. We also partnered with the Elementary Institute of Science, a nonprofit STEM-based educational organization in San Diego County, to provide a hands-on FIRST® experience to more than 100 fourth and fifth grade students from predominantly underprivileged neighborhoods as part of a Thanksgiving week STEM camp. We’ve carried this model into summer camps as well and continue to teach computer-aided design and robotics fundamentals to elementary and middle schoolers around San Diego, reaching more than 500 fourth and fifth graders.

We believe in the power of FIRST to improve the lives of students and we believe that FIRST should be available to every student. We continue to work towards making our vision a reality where every student in San Diego has STEM incorporated into their daily school curriculum. Through partnerships with legislators and educators, we hope to generate support for the next generation of students, prepared for a modern workforce, with a STEM education based on the FIRST program.

In addition to expanding STEM education, we also focus on using our own STEM skills to help the community through exercise, safety equipment, and environmental projects and education, including:

  • Through the 2021 FIRST Innovation Challenge, we designed a mobile application to gamify exercise by rewarding students with play time in exchange for physical activity and steps walked, and recently met with a physician to discuss funding. We received a FIRST Global Innovation Impact Award for this project.
  • We also partnered with the Scripps Ranch Civic Association and others in our community to produce over 10,000 face shields and “ear savers” to improve mask fitting for first responders and essential workers throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
  • We have led projects in our local parks and recreation areas to inform our community about the importance of protecting our environment.
  • We partnered with the San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation to create the first ever Jr. Ranger Program and Booklet for County Park for the Los Penasquitos Ranch House. The program was well-received and our team has been invited to help in the development of a Jr. Ranger Booklet for the Cabrillo National Monument, operated by the National Park Service.