Robotics Thrives Thanks to Donors’ Time, Gifts
Joseph Lemieux (’85, EE) didn’t know what to expect when his daughter, Megan, came to him for help with her “robotics club” in 2011.
“I went to it and realized real quickly it wasn’t just a club; it was an actual competition,” he said.
Since then, Lemieux’s wife, Jennifer, helped to grow the team, and his son, Kyle, joined the team two years later. Even after their children graduated from high school, the family remained involved in robotics as mentors to competing teams. Lemieux started 4405 The Atoms Family with Megan at Plymouth Christian Academy and two other teams, 5907 CC Shambots at Detroit Catholic Central and 7598 St. Catherine of Sienna Academy (SCA) Constellations. As a member of the Kettering/General Motors Institute Alumni Association (KGMIAA), Lemieux also works with the board to select FIRST and VEX Robotics teams to sponsor.
Thousands of students participate in robotics each year, building a pipeline to Kettering University and careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The University’s participation in robotics wouldn’t be possible without the time and gifts of alumni and friends.
The KGMIAA sponsored 43 robotics teams last season. The members hope to sponsor more teams this season.
“It’s exciting. It’s very rewarding that we have the opportunity to share that with them,” said Kelsey Kneebone (’17, ME), KGMIAA committee head of student recruitment. “Overall, it’s really exciting to see how they grow over the season and the program. There was a lull of in-person events for the last two years—a culture that got lost—and to see them getting back into it and getting excited again, it’s really rewarding.”
The budget for a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team can be $10,000 to $30,000, depending on how far the team progresses through the season.
“Any funding teams can get to help offset the cost will allow them to have more opportunities to design, prototype, build and compete because they won’t have to fundraise as much,” said Clinton Bolinger, Robotics Project Manager at Kettering.
Kettering University will host nine VEX and FIRST robotics and aerial drone competitions through May. The University has hosted two district competitions each year since 2008 and also hosts state and regional championship events for robotics and drones. Kettering began sponsoring high school FIRST robotics teams in 1998.
Each event requires 40 to 100 volunteers, depending on the type of event, such as qualifying, district, state or regional, Bolinger said. University staff members volunteer at the events, but many of the volunteers are students who are robotics alumni.
The 9,600-square-foot FIRST Robotics Community Center, made possible with money raised during the Boldly Forward Campaign, opened in 2014. The center features machining and designing areas, a regulation-size practice field and eight bays for teams to store equipment.
“It gives the opportunity for students from local schools that don’t have a lot of money to get access to a shop and do things,” Lemieux said.
In addition to giving their time, Lemieux and his wife established the Joseph J. ’85 and Jennifer B. Lemieux Scholarship for robotics students in financial need. They established the fund after meeting robotics students who couldn’t afford Kettering after merit scholarships.
“The student, when they added up scholarships, couldn’t afford it, and their family couldn’t get loans and get them over that hump,” Lemieux said.
The University offered its first two scholarships to robotics students in 1999 and has awarded more than $5.5 million since then thanks to gifts like the Lemieux scholarship.
Receiving a robotics scholarship made Kettering more affordable for Deondre Blair (‘25, EE/CE), he said.
Blair participated on Team #7772 The Lucky 7s in Montrose for three years and now mentors the team and volunteers at Kettering events as time permits.
“Robotics gets kids who are interested in STEM the basic skills used in industry,” Blair said.
He said the support from volunteers and donors is critical for robotics to succeed.
“Schools can only give so much,” Blair said, noting without that support many teams couldn’t be competitive or exist at all.
Gifts also help the University fund robotics workshops and precollege programs. Various robotics and drone precollege day camps are offered to students in first through 12th grade.
President McMahan thanks our alumni and donors for helping us close the largest capital campaign and begin a new era.
The goal of the Kettering University Philanthropy Report and Donor Honor Roll is to recognize your thoughtful and generous support over the past year.
When you choose to support Kettering with a gift, you bolster the very foundation of the University.