Carrie Harkness and her family will never forget the opportunities afforded to them by participating in FIRST Robotics in Michigan.
Those opportunities have provided life lessons and experiences to Carrie, her husband Ty and son Gage, who is about to graduate from the United States Army National Guard Basic Training.
All the memories of the four years spent with the FIRST Robotics Team 6102 at Montabella High School, about 20 minutes west of Mount Pleasant, come flooding back to the Harkness family.
The amped-up atmosphere during a competition that provides instant goosebumps. The agony of defeat after working so hard to anticipate various challenges. And the thrill of victory after months of hard work and the team becoming one unit.
“I’ll never forget my first event, which was in Midland,” said Harkness, a Consumers Energy Customer Program Manager based in Alma. “It was an eye-opening experience. The atmosphere was second to none and the energy was unreal.”
During her time as a volunteer with the team, Harkness helped obtain $2,500 through the company’s VIP grant program offered by the Consumers Energy Foundation.
“What these kids can think of and then execute at such a high level is simply amazing,” said Harkness, who along with Ty helped guide the team from 2016 to 2019.
She said she also learned some things along the way that she has carried over to her career at Consumers Energy.
“Time management is a big one,” she said. “And how these matches align with the business world is huge. Working together to accomplish something is so much more fulfilling than individual goals. I learned that by watching and being a part of FIRST Robotics.”
She remembers one particular event where the sense of achievement was palpable. The team was ecstatic when their robot caught a ball and climbed a rope about six-feet high.
“The looks on their faces was priceless,” she said. “They were so excited. And they went on to win the match because their robot climbed the rope on the first try. The reason was that they put in the practice to pull it off.”
When Gage graduated high school in 2018 and left the team, Carrie and Ty decided to stay on for another year to help with the transition of new mentors and coaches.
And now Gage is using some of the STEM skills he learned along the way as a member of the Army National Guard stationed in Fort Leonard Wood, MO.
“His job is engineering, so I am pretty sure some of the FIRST Robotics skills he learned are coming in handy right now,” she said with a laugh.
Harkness said looking back it was a blessing for her and Ty to work with Gage on the same team.
“You only get one chance to raise your kids and that was my top priority,” said Harkness who has another child Taylor. “Whenever and wherever they need our support, that’s where we will be.”
Gage will graduate from boot camp in the spring and be back to his family in Michigan this summer.
“I can’t wait,” the proud mother said. “I’m ready to give him a big ol’ hug and share some stories.”
She added she and Ty still get some welcomed calls from the robotics team coaches, mentors and students asking for advice.
“We will always be there for them and root them on,” she said. “We are part of that family for life.”
Consumers Energy is proud to sponsor FIRST Robotics STEM-related activities that support science, technology, engineering and math. In 2019, Consumers Energy and the Consumers Energy Foundation contributed more than $450,000 to support STEM programs, including FIRST teams at elementary, middle school and high school levels across the state. In addition, several employees and retirees also serve as volunteers and mentors with various teams and events. Learn how you can get involved in a local team at any level – elementary, middle school or high school. Visit www.ConsumersEnergy.com/robotics.