For high school students from outside the Great Lakes Bay Region, the recent FIRST Robotics state championships at Saginaw Valley State University provided a taste of undergraduate life on campus and a greater appreciation for what the region has to offer.
Megan Clapsaddle first SVSU experience came in April 2017, when she was a junior with the Oxford High School Robotics team that qualified for the first state competition hosted by the university. Impressed with what she saw, her college search was all but complete. She committed to enroll at SVSU, where she will begin her freshman year this August.
“I knew about SVSU, but I had never visited here before FIRST Robotics,” Clapsaddle said. “When I came here, I saw how nice the campus was, how friendly the people were, and how there seemed to be so much open space to enjoy. There was so much energy. I knew this was where I wanted to go.”
Clapsaddle and her FIRST Robotics team T.O.R.C. (team 2137) qualified for the 2018 FIRST Robotics state competition and returned to SVSU last week. In all, about 5,000 high school students - along with an additional 3,000 parents, volunteers and fans - attended the 3-day competition that injects at least an estimated $1 million into the region's economy, according to The Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. The contests concluded Saturday to capacity crowds despite icy weather conditions outside.
Based on the enthusiasm on display, Clapsaddle said she expects the competition will lead other first-time campus visitors to strongly consider SVSU as a college destination. For those FIRST Robotics visitors who already planned to attend SVSU - like her - the state championships likely reinforced their decision, she said.
Angelica Tibbits falls into that category. The senior from the Pontiac Academy for Excellence was among the contest's 5,000 participants, competing for Wingspan (team 6117). A resident of Pontiac, Tibbits planned to enroll at SVSU based on earlier visits to the university, but the FIRST Robotics event bolstered her eagerness to move to the campus this fall.
“It's been an awesome experience to have Robotics at SVSU,” Tibbits said. “It's such an open, cool campus. The buildings seem so new and everyone is so helpful. It really makes me look forward to coming here.”
Both Tibbits and Clapsaddle are uncertain which academic program they will pursue as undergraduates. But their experience with FIRST Robotics - and their preview of SVSU as an institution - has opened them up to many possibilities.
“FIRST Robotics showed me I can do a lot more than I thought I could,” said Tibbits, who will be the first member of her family to attend college.
Many FIRST Robotics students – but not all – pursue degrees in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), and Tibbits said SVSU's mechanical engineering program appeals to her.
“That's what I'm leaning toward,” she said, “but I'm learning there are so many possibilities here.”