Building partnerships with science

First Solar, Lathrop proud to sponsor Falcon BEST robotics competition

Richard Edwards, mayor of the City of Bowling Green; Venu Dasigi, interim dean of the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering; Mary Ellen Mazey, Ph.D., president of Bowling Green State University; Jay Lake, director of Workforce Development and Community Relations of First Solar; and Mohammad Mayas, BGSU's Falcon BEST hub director, welcomed more than 300 participants and spectators to this year's competition.

By Bob Cunningham

The fourth annual Falcon BEST robotics competition this fall at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center had it all.

There were teams from middle schools and high schools from all over northwest Ohio, and even one from Indiana, competing in the event.  

The Lathrop Co. has been a sponsor of the Falcon BEST robotics competition since its inception.It featured a sportslike atmosphere with teams’ friends, family members and interested onlookers cheering from the stands. There also were pep bands, mascots, flags and signs of encouragement, generating an atmosphere fitting for the achievements of aspiring scientists.  

Yes, it’s fun to cheer for science. Just ask First Solar and The Lathrop Co., sponsors of the popular event. Each company has made a $25,000 pledge and a five-year commitment to the competition.

“The pushing of STEM initiatives at local high schools, local colleges and at events like this has been a mission for us over the last couple of years,” said Jay Lake, director of workforce development and community relations at First Solar, which sponsored its first competition this fall. “We are a high-technology company, and robotics and various computers and computer systems drive how we make our product. We have a ton of fantastic, STEM-oriented career individuals here at First Solar.”

First Solar, an alternative energy company in Perrysburg, Ohio, has been involved in area high school STEM programs, so Lake said the company saw the sponsorship opportunity at BGSU as a natural progression.  

“We do a lot of work with BGSU and have a great relationship with the University, and, more importantly and specific to our industry, the students who attend the school,” said Steven Johnson, president of Lathrop. ”We just thought it was a great opportunity to engage in helping some young people get interested in science and technology, many who decide to go into construction or other related fields in the area. We thought it was a win-win to engage with students as well as engage with the University. My focus as the president is young people and their careers.”

Lathrop, located in Maumee, Ohio, has been involved with the Falcon BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) robotics competition since the start, donating safety goggles, vests, hard hats, and the like. The company’s five-year financial commitment started in 2015.

The theme of this year’s competition was “Bet the Farm.” Teams were required to develop robots that could be used to assist with agriculture and scored points having their robots complete tasks in three-minute matches as efficiently as possible

Supplies for the competition were provided by the College of Technology, Architecture, and Applied Engineering, a co-host of the event along with the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education.  

First Solar wants to be involved in the community, Lake said.

“We had heard a lot about the competition,” he said. “And that’s another reason we partnered with BGSU, because the University is in our backyard. To be a company that’s involved in the community and being somebody that wants to make sure the community is involved with us, you have to start in your backyard and that’s Bowling Green.”

Johnson is happy to see the competition is growing every year.

“It’s gotten a lot of attention and again we look at our partnership with the University: There’s things we can do to help bring excitement to the University and draw students,” he said. “The better students they have, the better workforce I have — so we’re always looking for opportunities to help the University attract the best talent in the area.”