FIRST Volunteers: Meet Desh Bagley

Desh Bagley has been involved with FIRST® for 14 years and volunteered this season as an emcee, event manager, and volunteer coordinator. Desh is the founder of TechPlayzone in Riverview, Florida, an after-school and summer camp for children interested in technology, where she hosts multiple FIRST® LEGO® League teams. Whether she is volunteering as an emcee for FIRST LEGO League at FIRST Championship or explaining the power of FIRST to a local news reporter, Desh knows how to make FIRST loud. Read on to see what Desh has to say about how volunteering with FIRST can show kids from around the world that we are more alike than different.   

How did you get involved with FIRST 

I got involved with FIRST in 2006 when a local Girl Scout troop formed a FIRST LEGO League team and asked if they could use my business, TechPlayzone, as a meeting spot. I said yes and the girls met several times a week after school. I watched the fun and excitement the girls displayed during their practices. Not only did I watch them, but my 10-year-old son and the other after-school kids at our center also saw the girls building and programming robots. Within two weeks, my son had convinced me to register a team for him and some friends. I became a mentor for the team. 

When did you start volunteering?   

I started volunteering as a FIRST LEGO League mentor during the Nanotechnology 2006-2007 season. I would host teams in our center (at no cost) and provide equipment that teams could use to practice. I found professionals and educators to meet with teams and help them explore real-world topics. My former physics professor from Hillsborough Community College, Dr. Hugh Hickman, served as a mentor for the teams that season. He shared knowledge and examples about nanotechnology with the teams at TechPlayzone so they could understand those deep concepts. TechPlayzone became a starting ground for many FIRST LEGO League teams in the community. In 2009, I was asked to host a FIRST LEGO League Qualifier. Once again, I went to Hillsborough Community College (HCC) and asked if we could host an event. HCC agreed to host that first event. Today, HCC is the Regional Partner for FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Jr. and I serve as the Program Delivery Partner. For the past few years, I've also been a Global Emcee for the FIRST LEGO League World Festival at FIRST Championship. 

Why did you start volunteering? 

As a child, I had the best mentors and teachers. They would pick me up for after-school math club and orchestra practice. One mentor, Dr. Richard Price, would have a group of us meet at Lamar University on Saturday mornings to prep for NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) Pre-college competitions. My mom didn't drive and my dad worked a lot. To make it possible for me to participate in programs after school and on weekends, adult volunteers willingly picked me up, brought me home, provided snacks, and shared their vision of what I could accomplish in life. I started volunteering to continue the tradition those adults started with me. I have a computer science degree and I'm always looking for ways to engage kids in STEM. When I was introduced to FIRST, I knew it would be the perfect way to combine character building, STEM enrichment, and competition into one model. I registered the team, then gave them the tools and they took over. My son is now working on his PhD in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. It makes me proud to see him continuing to pay it forward; he mentors a FIRST LEGO League Team at the University of Rochester.   

What do you think is the most rewarding part of being a volunteer with FIRST? 

The most rewarding part of being a FIRST volunteer is seeing how much everyone gives so generously of their talents, time, and finances. I get to work with smart kids and smart and giving adults. At FIRST Championship, thousands of people are sacrificing time and money to give back to youth. As an emcee, I get to interact with teams from all over the world. I see the similarities between the team from Arkansas and the team from Kenya, Africa. I see the excitement and disappointment in the kids from Texas and in the kids from China. There is a common union among the participants of solving real-world problems in their community and changing the world. Several of the kids that I coached on teams are now AmeriCorps VISTAs and giving back to FIRST.

What advice would you give to a new volunteer? 

Prepare to fall in love with FIRST 

New volunteers should prepare to help change the lives of kids and to have their own lives changed. Each time I invite someone to help at a tournament or to mentor a team, they tell me that their lives are changed. Yes, they are helping to shape the lives of future generations, but the volunteers are also changed by seeing the perseverance and dedication of the kids on our teams. They see the passion and commitment that volunteers give to their roles. Our volunteers return season after season because they see the difference and impact made by their presence.      

What do you like to do outside of volunteering with FIRST 

I love giving presentations and sharing my passion about kids, robotics, STEM, and character. As the Program Delivery Partner for FIRST LEGO League in the West Florida Region, I'm constantly meeting new people. My goal is to let everyone know that kindergartners can code. Give me a microphone and projector and I'm ready to give a presentation about computational thinking for kindergarten kids. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

In my first year as a Global Emcee for the FIRST LEGO League World Festival, I had a surprise visitor who came to support me. It was my mentor, Dr. Richard Price, from Lamar University. He traveled from our hometown of Beaumont, TX, to Houston to tell me that he was proud of me, proud that I was giving back and helping young people get excited about math and science like he helped me. I had a chance to publicly thank him. I thanked him for having the vision to guide me toward engineering and computer science. I'm excited that I am now the mentor for thousands of young people in FIRST. The letters they write to me saying that I helped them to see a brighter future for themselves give me joy.  I'm thankful to be a FIRST volunteer, dancing, celebrating, and showing kids from around the world that we are more alike than different, and we will change the world.