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Volunteer Spotlight Focus: Judges


Our focus this month is on volunteers and the critical role they play in the success of event support as well as student development. With New Mexico joining Texas in transitioning their FIRST Robotics Competition program from regional to district, we took this opportunity to reach out to Cindy Stong, a National Judge Advisor out of New Mexico for FIRST®. In this volunteer spotlight feature, Cindy shares how she became involved with FIRST® and her experience as a judge at FIRST Robotics Competition events.

The Lifelong Journey (And Joy) of Volunteering

Cindy Stong FIRST Robotics Competition Judge Advisor for FIRSTCindy Stong has watched students grow and mature not only as aspiring STEM experts but also as individuals. In an interview with FIRST in Texas, Stong said this about her most cherished memories from her volunteering experience:

“My best memories are of seeing students grow and learn over many years of competition. I got to talk to students who wouldn’t make eye contact, shuffle their feet while talking to me, grow to seniors who will absolutely succeed in whatever they choose to do.”

Judging became a fantastic way for her to experience the robotics competitions, as Stong noted:

“Judging is a great way to see an overview of the competition and talk to students directly. You have to make hard decisions, but you have the skill of the entire room of judges to help. Judges are the face of FIRST to the students. We are role models and can share some of our background with the students while interviewing them.”


An Engineer’s Road to Becoming a FIRST® Judge

She not only enjoyed the chance to see students grow, she also experienced the satisfaction of using her hard-earned STEM knowledge to give back to the community. Her story of how she became involved with FIRST® is revealing in this way:

“I attended a keynote talk at an American Society of Engineers conference where Dean Kamen was speaking. Dean asked the audience of about 200 engineers: who has volunteered for FIRST® Robotics? Only a half-dozen hands went up. Dean’s retort was “bad engineers.” He went on to explain engineers and scientists have a duty to give back and train the next generation. I’ve been judging ever since.”

When asked about the types of skills a potential volunteer judge needs before jumping into the role, Stong shared the FIRST® model for preparing new judges for their role:

Judges are trained and paired with a ‘veteran’ judge at the start.  You and your judge partner decide what your plan is for judging together.  You discuss what questions you might ask.  And then you go for it.  Time flies as you enjoy talking to teams and meeting amazing students.  You don’t have to be in a STEM career to be a great judge.  We need business judges for the Entrepreneurship award.  There are several non-technical awards so everyone is capable of judging.

And when anyone she met wasn’t sure about whether they wanted to be a judge, Stong always had a quick reply:

“My comment to folks I was encouraging to judges was always, “Try it once and then I’ll never bug you again,” [laughs]. I knew they would be hooked. Judging is an amazing two-day gig that not only gives you enjoyment but impacts and changes many young lives. Try it and see.”

Many Other Crucial Roles

Whether or not judging is the right role for you, there are many other volunteer opportunities at FIRST in Texas. No matter what kind of skills or background you have, we can find a place for you.

To learn more about the important role a judge volunteer plays at FIRST® events, visit