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FIRST Volunteers: Meet Nick Burgart

What’s it really like to volunteer for a remote event with FIRST®? Meet Nick Burgart, FIRST volunteer, for the inside scoop! Nick was a judge for the 2020 FIRST® LEGO® League Global Innovation Award. The FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award showcases the real-world, innovative solutions created by FIRST LEGO League teams from around the world as part of an annual, themed Challenge. Because of restrictions due to COVID-19, the event happened remotely this year, and Nick was one of several judges and volunteers who stepped up to the plate to make it possible. We caught up with Nick to learn more about his volunteer story. 

How did you get involved with FIRST® and why did you start volunteering? 

I first learned of FIRST through Rockwell Collins, now Collins Aerospace. They are a big supporter of FIRST and encouraged involvement. When they talked about FIRST LEGO League, I couldn't help but get excited about the LEGO robot aspect. I've had several interactions with some of the FIRST® Tech Challenge teams, as they've had mentors within our engineering teams, but I first started volunteering as a judge for FIRST LEGO League events. I've done both the project and the robot competition and have been supporting them both for the last five years. I've really hit my passion with judging the projects for FIRST LEGO League, though. I really wish that all levels of FIRST had a project component, because I see so much innovation and desire to change the world through those events. 

 

What was your experience like as a remote volunteer? Do you have any advice or tips for our FIRST  volunteer community when volunteering for a remote event? 

The FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award was really well done as a remote event this year. I enjoyed it almost as much as the events in person in previous years. You have to get yourself into a situation where you can put your focus on the work that you're doing. Make sure you've got good lighting and a good audio connection. Being able to interact with the camera makes it more like you were in person. Try not to have your setting be a distraction for the kids, but at the same time you want it to represent you as a person if you can. 

You have to get yourself into a situation where you can put your focus on the work that you're doing. Make sure you've got good lighting and a good audio connection. Being able to interact with the camera makes it more like you were in person. Try not to have your setting be a distraction for the kids, but at the same time you want it to represent you as a person if you can. 

If possible, I think it's good to meet your fellow volunteers before the actual event. Have some questions that aren't all focused on the "work." We did some icebreakers and got to know each other's background some.  At the end of the day, realize that there may be some technical problems, but go with the flow and it'll be ok. Things can be adjusted. FIRST provides a variety of tools that volunteers can use to collect and share feedback. These tools sure made our judging process easier. 

 

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

For me, the most rewarding part of being a volunteer with FIRST is getting to be a part of the passion that the kids have with every aspect of what they do. The FIRST Core Values drive every aspect of the program, and you see it in everyone, from the kids to all the volunteers and staff. I honestly look forward to the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award every year and being able to be a judge for it. It encourages me and energizes me when I walk away from that. It gives me hope seeing the excitement around STEM and that our future is going to be brighter because of these young innovators. 

I honestly look forward to the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award every year and being able to be a judge for it. It encourages me and energizes me when I walk away from that. It gives me hope seeing the excitement around STEM and that our future is going to be brighter because of these young innovators. 

Can you share a moment or story from your involvement with FIRST  that really impacted you? 

It's hard to point to a specific story, as almost all my experiences have provided lasting memories. In general, though, my biggest impact has been as a judge for the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award, having those interactions with the kids and being able to get them to a point of being comfortable answering questions and interacting with the judges. When it becomes a collaborative experience between both of us, I walk away feeling so much better for it. The deliberations are hard, and we know that we're literally changing lives with the awards that go out, but then at the end of the day when those teams win, you know that absolutely everything was worth it. 

 

What do you like to do outside of volunteering with FIRST? 

Outside of FIRST, I am really passionate about running and cooking, and this year I've gotten really involved with social justice. For me, several of those things come together, and some of the projects I've seen in the past few years actually align with this passion. I think access to healthy food, exercise, and education has been a systemic problem that prevents us as a society from seeing the improvement we all want to see. I love seeing passion in FIRST to break down all those barriers, and there have been some great ideas as to how to solve those problems. 


Nick is an Associate Director of Systems and Hardware Engineering with Collins Aerospace in the Washington, DC, area. Nick has been volunteering with FIRST for five years. Nick is married to Jackie and is parent to his dog Olive. He loves to continue to learn, travel, and experience all sorts of vegan food.  

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