This blog post is written by past and present members of Team Storm of Terre Haute, IN, USA. 

Team Storm is no stranger to FIRST® LEGO® League success. The team won the Global Innovation Award in the FLL WORLD CLASS season (2014). In the TRASH TREK season (2015), the team was a semi-finalist for the same award.

More recently, the team’s Project from HYDRO DYNAMICS became a reality when the city of Terre Haute, Indiana won a grant. The city will use the award of $5,000 to install the their Stormwater Community Watch Program™.

Below are some things the team has learned from their experience.

Tip #1 – Where to start when you have zero, zilch, zip Project expert connections

Ask for help from local community colleges and universities. Our team has received help from many professors and college students over the years. Local contacts tend to become our best resources, because we can meet in person.

We try to stay local. If we have several Project ideas, we tend to choose the one that has more local contacts.

Remember to think beyond the Challenge theme. Consider professional associations that have local chapters. For example, Optimist International, Toastmasters International, or collaborative co-working spaces. Among these groups, or spaces, are individuals with all sorts of professional backgrounds. You could find just the connection you need.

Tip #2 – Start field trips early

We always know the next theme before school lets out for the summer. Our coaches ask us to look for related field trips while we’re on break. They also encourage us to find opportunities while on family vacation. This way we can schedule them before we meet in the Fall.

waste water plantDuring our field trip to a wastewater treatment facility, we learned a lot about storm drains. It’s important for storm drains to stay free of pollution. Wastewater treatment facilities also rely on citizens to report problems. Learning this helped us come up with our problem. We might not have discovered it if we had only done research on the internet or in a book.

When you take a field trip, you have a chance to create ongoing relationships with experts. The water experts we met on our field trip invited us to present at four conferences across Indiana.

Keep your relationships going even after the season. Check in with your connections and let them know how your Project is going.

Tip #3 – Creating connections with town, state, or national entities

Don’t worry if you need support from town, state or national officials. You can ask your existing experts to help you make new connections. Always have an email ready that describes your Project.

We met our local Stormwater coordinator on a field trip. He suggested we contact the State for support. The State sometimes recognizes communities that have positive, natural solutions to water management.

It’s okay to reach out to officials even if you don’t have a connection with them. We emailed the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) without a contact. The IDEM Commissioner was still willing to meet with us.

with commissioner pigottSince the IDEM and the Governor’s Office work together, we ended up presenting our idea to the governor’s staff!  Always have a strong elevator pitch ready, just in case.

mayor2Our local Stormwater coordinator got more excited after we received state-level encouragement. This led to a meeting with our city Mayor.  At that meeting, we learned about the Indiana American Water Environmental Grant Program. We applied and won!

Thanks to this grant, Terre Haute will install our Stormwater Community Watch Program™. We came up with the idea of using QR codes to mark street curb inlets, where water drains into underground pipes that lead to rivers. The codes on the curbs make it easier to report illegal dumping and reduce waste from entering local waterways.

Tip #4 – Keep sharing your idea

The more you share your idea, the more opportunities become available. This leads to a greater chance for meeting that perfect someone who can help you bring your idea to life. Even if opportunities don’t become available, you are learning and growing. Every time you share, you improve your communication skills and your confidence.

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We wish great success to all teams! Especially if you plan on going beyond the season with your Project solution.