“Instead of him following in our footsteps, we followed in his.” 

That’s been the guiding force for Abha Bosworth, a 2023 Onshape Educator Awards winner, who has spent the last 5 years as a FIRST Robotics coach. With the urging of her son, Bosworth founded the team in their garage and, despite having no previous engineering experience, was able to cultivate a team that has made a lasting impact both locally and globally.

An Unlikely Beginning: From Biology to Robotics

As an undergraduate biology major at the University of California, San Diego, Bosworth developed an early penchant for patient care and one-on-one interactions. This led to a master's at San Diego State University, where she studied Public Health and Epidemiology, followed by a master's in Physician Assistant Studies. 

Yet, unlike herself and her husband Tom, an attorney, Bosworth’s son began expressing an interest in software engineering and programming in middle school. Despite having no engineering experience, Bosworth recognized her son’s enthrallment and sought opportunities to introduce him to robotics. In 2016, when he was in 7th grade, they discovered the FIRST LEGO League Challenge, a program designed to immerse participants in robotics.

A year later, her son joined FIRST Tech Challenge, in which students build and program robots for various challenges each year. Bosworth and her son developed an increased understanding of FIRST programs and robotics throughout both programs. Soon after, before his first year of high school, he proposed forming and leading a community-based FIRST Tech Challenge Team.

“It was intimidating for me because my husband and I were going to be the adult support, but neither of us are in the engineering field,” Bosworth said. “But we realized, what do children need? They need space, support, a safe environment, and just room to learn and grow.”

Bosworth also recognized that, with limited technical help from outside their team, Team 16884, her son and his teammates had a unique advantage; there were no experts available to provide a quick solution. The teamwork that grew from troubleshooting and problem-solving on their own made for exciting learning opportunities that strengthened their self-confidence.

The team! FIRST Robotics Team 16884 working in the garage.

The Switch to Cloud CAD

The onset of the pandemic and the subsequent quarantine meant in-person learning was put on hold. For a FIRST Robotics team reliant on collaboration, this posed a problem. Luckily, the team welcomed the challenge by exploring new solutions like cloud-native CAD while looking for ways to help the community.

During that time, FIRST offered an Innovation Challenge to enhance safety and accessibility in physical activity. The six-member team won for their app designed to improve exercise and health outcomes in autistic children. 

Contemporaneously, the team’s 3D printer was at work 24 hours a day printing the head portion of face masks used in hospitals, adding to a community effort totaling 10,000 masks. When they realized the toll face masks were taking on health providers’ ears, they also began printing ear protectors. 

In addition to coaching the team through these endeavors to support their community, Bosworth continued to practice as a physician assistant throughout the pandemic.

Abha at work Abha Bosworth in her office. (Photos Courtesy Abha Bosworth)

While recognizing the limitations of not having in-person interactions, the team hoped to expand their outreach further by introducing younger students to CAD software. After researching possible alternatives to their previous system, the team switched to Onshape, a cloud-native CAD software free for students and educators. 

The team members reached out to their previous elementary school teachers and received invitations to teach 4th and 5th graders a 90-minute course in CAD. After making their accounts, the teammates guided students through creating a Christmas tree ornament that the team printed. Because Onshape doesn’t require downloads or specific equipment, the students can continue their learning and creativity after class. 

“The kids were amazing, just amazing,” Bosworth said. “They didn't want the lesson to end!” 

Taking the Show on the (Virtual) Road

With the success of their first virtual course, the team began considering more opportunities to teach. 

“The teacher gave up their classroom time to do this and invited the kids back any time,” she said. “We did actually go on to come back and go to other elementary schools.”

Creating opportunities for underserved schools to engage with CAD was a priority, and students were able to make their creations tangible with the help of the team’s 3D printer. From key chains to fridge magnets, students developed a sense of the possibility of CAD creations.

The excitement also came from a sense of the real-world applications of Onshape. 

The team highlighted for the students that their accomplishment in 90 minutes reflects a practical skill used in real-world situations. This sparked excitement and showcased a keen desire for more experiences as they recognized they had successfully tackled a task usually associated with adults.

Once school resumed in-person learning, the team began to teach in classrooms, but their experience with Onshape and virtual learning made it possible to communicate with previously inaccessible communities. 

The team contacted the World Health Organization to express their interest in offering the course to displaced Ukrainian refugees and was approached by a local nonprofit for students. A team member who spoke Polish translated the lesson, and just like local students, the Ukrainian students had their creations printed and shipped to them.

As Bosworth guided her son and their team through making the lesson possible, she recognized the incredible connection between students who were teaching and those learning. 

“Their whole world has been turned upside down. They don't have regular school. They don't even have their homes,” Bosworth said. “They're completely displaced, so this provided a little bit of an excitement, distraction, something that felt normal. Connecting with kids, kids teaching kids just in itself is a very special experience.”

Bosworth also recognized the advantage that Onshape provided as a browser-based CAD program for achieving the team's goals for global outreach. 

“With 2021 and the pandemic, Onshape was at the core of what gave them the tools and the freedom to be able to do these lessons,” she explained. “I don't know that it would have been possible [without Onshape]. We did have some tutorials, and the kids created programming lessons, but it was not as engaging as utilizing Onshape.”

In total, Team 16884 has assisted in the creation of over 2,000 Onshape accounts. Each account represents a student utilizing cutting-edge technology to design a future where they are not limited by where or how they learn. 

Onshape’s commitment to accessibility – from a phone to a Chromebook – and collaboration, from San Diego to Poland, made it possible for nine robotics team members working in their garage amidst a pandemic to make a valuable impact. That ripple would have never started if it were not for Bosworth’s support.

The team posing together. Team 16884, or “Mechanical Advantage,” at a FIRST competition.

“It's beyond words for me to see that something like this happened,” she said. “I do see it's years of development and the confidence for the kids here in my garage, as well as them being able to reach out and have compassion.” 

The FIRST Robotics Ripple Effect

Bosworth’s support for her son and team extends to all students interested in building engineering experience. 

“Every kid has the right to have this type of exposure at a young age,” she said. “The younger, the better because then when you go off to college or you’re in the real world, it's not so frightening.”

Placing 16th in the 2022 FIRST World Championships, the team has evolved to include students ranging from second graders to seniors experiencing robotics for the first time. The team's dual focus on engineering and education drew the attention of FIRST, earning them the prestigious World Motivate Award.

The Team The team after receiving the ​​World Motivate Award.

Back home, the team continues to uplift and empower other students using CAD. The team has taken steps to make software engineering, technology, and robotics a core part of their high school curriculum, speaking with local council members, representatives, teachers, and their principal. They hope all students will have access to CAD, a sentiment Onshape shares. 

After her son’s graduation from high school and acceptance to MIT, Bosworth, her daughter, and the other team members continue to foster the same spark that Bosworth recognized 8 years ago. 

“They wanted to do something. I would just find a way to make that happen.”

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