Meet the DPC: Connie Haynes

There’s a really popular blog series titled “This is How I Work” which is organized by FRC Team 3847. In these blogs, famous FRC mentors from around the program answer some questions about their lives, their work habits, and their teams. 

Inspired by their example, we’re starting a new series titled “Meet the RPC,” where we will introduce our readers to the member of our PCH Regional (now District) Planning Committee.

Today, we’re excited to be kicking off our series with Connie Haynes, who, among other roles, is the Executive Director of Georgia FIRST.

Name: Connie Haynes
Position: Executive Director, Georgia FIRST

Alma Mater: Brenau University (Bachelors) and University of North Georgia (Masters)
Degree: Bachelors in Elementary Education and Master of Education, Gifted
Hobbies: Robots! Hiking, Movies, Traveling, Reading, Scuba Diving
Favorite Song Right Now: Can’t Stop the Feeling, Dance Dance Dance (Justin Timberlake)

What inspired you to get involved with FIRST?  
Being a teacher, I was impressed by the level of hands on engagement FIRST offered students. The mentor piece was the icing on the cake. Being able to bring together mentors (industry) with the educational experience has always been a logical choice for meaningful collaboration to me. And of course, how can you resist the opportunity to build a robot!

What is your most memorable experience at a FIRST event?
Honestly, there are so many. One that I will never forget is the year CNN was following one of our rookie teams (100 Scholars) for a documentary they were producing. The crew was at the Peachtree Regional to get footage of the team and event. The 100 scholars did not make it into the finals but the film crew decided to stay to get footage of the winners of the event. We were into the last match of the event. It was tied - Blue Alliance 1, Red Alliance 1. We were playing the tie breaker that would decide the winning alliance. We were in a 15 minute break to allow for the teams to switch batteries, code, etc. During this break, a robot on the red alliance discovered they had a broken chain on their drive system. After a mad dash to their pit, they discovered that they did not have a replacement. Neither did any of their alliance partners. However, a team on the blue alliance did have a chain that could be modified quickly to fit. They offered their chain, it was replaced and the match started. The red alliance won. The crew from CNN immediately went to the blue alliance and ask the questions, ‘Aren’t you just sick that you gave them the chain and they end up winning the entire event? If you had not done that you would have won.’ The student from that team looked at her and said, ‘We would have never wanted to win the event that way. The match would have been unfair. We are happy with our performance and happy that we could help another team reach their goal.’ He then walked away. The CNN reporter looked at me and said, ‘I will never understand this game!’
I was never so proud of a team and their response.  They embody all that FIRST strives to be.

What is your schedule like during the FRC season?  
If you can imagine the craziest week of your life, still working at your desk at 5:00am, without going to bed that night and multiply that by 10, you would get a glimpse into my schedule. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The reward of being able to offer this program to students of our state far outweighs the lack of sleep.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 
‘You are not better than anyone but you are as good as everyone!’  This advice has served as a way to always keep me grounded and able to see my self worth in any situation throughout my life.  It has given me a servant's attitude toward helping and serving others in the best way possible.  It also keeps me from making the statement, ‘Somebody should do something about that!’  I always know that that someone should be me. 

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing our district? 
As always, the biggest challenge any non-profit faces is funding.  We are no exception.  We are at the mercy of our stakeholders belief in the mission we are trying to accomplish.  As we continue to expand our model, bringing on more events, more teams, etc., we will continue to increase our need to fund our program.  Another challenge we will face as we move forward will be our volunteer pool.  Without the dedicated people that give of their time and talent to make our events happen and mentor our teams, we would cease to exist.  Honoring the men and women that make a commitment to FIRST is a main priority.  

What are some big improvements that you’ve seen over the past year? 
Without a doubt, access to FIRST within our state and team quality.  When we ask the questions, ‘where are we needed most?’ undoubtedly the answer is always - where ever there are youth throughout our state. This includes the inner cities, the rural areas and the suburbs. In order to offer access to any student interested in our program, we have to continue to make the commitment to bring the program to their area. The reach we now have within our state, through the district model, is one of our greatest achievements. And of course, having 12 FRC teams attend championships in Saint Louis is not bad either! 

What would you like to see improved about the PCH district in the next couple of years?
My goal is to have the state of Georgia make a monetary commitment to FIRST that would allow for team support and teacher stipends.  We have been working on this issue for several years and continue to make progress in this area.  We are asking the state to designate a line item budget to support FIRST. This commitment has been achieved in other states and we feel that as a technology rich state, committed to attracting high tech industry with needs of a highly qualified workforce, investing in FIRST is a win-win for Georgia.

What are you looking forward to the most about this upcoming FRC season?
Working with the new rookie teams (expansion), collaborating with the veteran teams (sustainability), bringing new stakeholders to the mix and of course, the game!

Who would you like us to feature next?
I would suggest Dr. Bob Tate. He gives countless hours to the operation of FIRST and has been around since the creation of Georgia FIRST.