When most high school students were looking to join student council or cheerleading, Libby Kamen decided to start a competitive robotics team. The small team started out in her garage with four students and some extremely supportive parents. Kamen founded what is now called The MidKnight Inventors in 2006 and since then, despite graduating high school and college, she has maintained a pivotal role in mentoring students and helping the organization grow to 100 students from several local schools.
Kamen has enjoyed watching the team grow not only because she started it, but The MidKnight Inventors now features more students with diversified interests—not just engineers. This robotics team now includes business strategists, marketing specialists, and social media managers.
“This is the thing, if kids really care about something they can have a chance to exercise that—no matter what your interest is in. There is a place for you on a FIRST [robotic] team; with a hundred kids that’s something! We make sure that’s a really big focus of ours as we mentor the students. We want to make sure all of the kids have a task they’re engaged in that they love doing,” explained Kamen.
At first, the students pulled together whatever funds they could find, but now they get a huge amount of support from the school district, local businesses, and corporations. While the school district provides buses for transportation, the community has really come through by continually becoming active sponsors to the team.
A corporate realty company has donated an empty storefront so the team has plenty of space to work and people passing by can see what they’re up to. Even local restaurants are eager to donate meals to feed the hungry robot engineers. The team always pays respect to their donors by showcasing their logos on the team tees.
The MidKnight Inventors, named for Kamen ’s high school mascot and the many late hours, attends and competes in several events per year along with one they host at their own high school. Kamen saw the t-shirt order for that particular competition as a great way to see how much they have grown.
Nine seasons ago, a very panicky Kamen called Rush Order Tees needing a few team uniforms with very little time to spare; now they order tees for event 100 volunteers and almost 1,200 attendees. And they love the silver metallic ink.
They participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition, (usFIRST.org) which provides the team with provides the team with a new challenge each year and they have six weeks to build a robot that will go up against thousands of other high school teams. As Kamen noted, the team isn’t just about robot building. They have students building business plans to gain funding and find the most effective sponsors for their organization.
Their budding marketing team helps promote the team, events, and even develop the branding. During the event, several students study the competitor’s robots to find the best battle strategy for their robots. And of course, there are plenty of engineers to build the robots. This all fits into FIRST’s and Kamen’s goals for the team—to find something for everyone.
“What we do is really cool, it’s not just about the robots—it’s about how the team presents themselves and since it’s a huge community it’s about how you make your mark in something iconic and being recognized by other teams. [That] is really important to us.”