FIRST Alum Nicki Bonczyk fell in love with engineering after joining FIRST Robotics Competition team 107, R.O.B.O.T.I.C.S., from Holland, Michigan. After high school, she studied product design and manufacturing engineering and interned for JR Automation, eventually landing a full-time job there as a mechanical engineer – her dream job. “Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day,” Nicki says. “Can you think of a better job?”
How did you get involved with FIRST?
I was born and raised in Holland, Michigan, and I used to dream of becoming an architect. My dad, Bob Bonczyk, has been involved with FIRST for more than 20 years now, so it’s always been around my life. My mom, Michelle Bonczyk, a 14-year mentor, used to take me to FIRST events when I was little and I would see just how fun robotics was. Naturally, when I got to high school, I joined Team 107 and fell in love with engineering and the idea of being an engineer.
What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
After high school, I went to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) for Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering. I had developed a passion for mechanical engineering while on the team in high school, and GVSU was a great fit. Being that GVSU hosted a FIRST event (now the West Michigan District Event), I had a chance to see the university and its passion for FIRST. GVSU has a great Co-op program, and I got work experience before I graduated through my internship at JR Automation.
After graduation, I continued to work at JR Automation and shifted from an intern to a full-time mechanical engineer, which is really a dream job! Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day – can you think of a better job?
You’ve continued to be involved with FIRST as an Alum; what have you been up to?
I’ve stayed really involved with FIRST since becoming an alum. I help coach a FIRST Tech Challenge team with my mom and a few other FIRST Alumni and help Team 107 with CAD, as well as work with my employer to provide a full-sized practice field for the area teams to use. I’m also a head referee and volunteer coordinator for Michigan events.
How do you balance FIRST volunteering with school and work?
When I was still a student at GVSU, I made a point to put school and completing my engineering degree first. So, I decided to volunteer at events while I was completing my degree. Depending on the semester, I could do two to six events a year.
Now that I am working full time, my schedule is a little more predictable. I have been able to start up a FIRST Tech Challenge team and work with the local middle school students a few nights a week. I can give my parents a hand when they need it. I got lucky by finding a company to work for that really supports FIRST. With so many events being held in Michigan, there are many opportunities for myself and my coworkers to volunteers. It has been great to get more coworkers involved at the events as volunteers.