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ConnectVA Spotlight: Samantha Ellis, VirginiaFIRST

Get to know Samantha Ellis, Operations Coordinator at VirginiaFIRST and this week’s ConnectVA Spotlight!

Samantha Ellis-cropped (3)

Tell us about yourself.

I am Samantha Ellis, Operations Coordinator at VirginiaFIRST.  I’ve held a variety of positions in the non-profit/museum realm, including Executive Director of the VA Fire & Police Museum, Prospect Researcher at the VMFA and the Library of Virginia, Asst. Archivist at the C&O Historical Society, and Special Program Assistant with the Virginia Association of Museums.

I have a BA in Historic Preservation from University of Mary Washington and a MA in Folk Studies from Western Kentucky University.  Although my career path did not stick with these majors, the skills I learned in college/university have been highly valuable and translate far beyond their seeming scope.  Rejoice, all you with non-traditional college degrees!

What is the focus of your work?

VirginiaFIRST is a 16 year old 501(c)(3) organization that brings STEM-based leadership enrichment programs to youth in Virginia. VirginiaFIRST uses robotics as the “vehicle” to reinforce STEM-based concepts and teach valuable life skills such as leadership, creative thinking, and teamwork. Each year VirginiaFIRST provides resources and support to over 10,000 k-12 students and outreach to over 40,000 individuals in Virginia, DC and Maryland.

I support the Administrative and Development arm of VirginiaFIRST, overseeing the daily operations of our organization.  Working in collaboration with the VirginiaFIRST staff and VirginiaFIRST Board of Trustees, my duties include database maintenance, prospect research, web site content management, communications, procurement, and the production of monthly newsletters.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

It’s very exciting to see kids of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds who are fired up about science and learning, who work to do their best while encouraging others to do the same, and who are supported and uplifted by adult coaches and mentors.  Smart is cool!

What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them? 

One of our programs, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for high school age students, is transitioning this year from a competition model that represented 3 separate regions to a collaborative District-based program, now encompassing Virginia, D.C. and Maryland.  There is a short learning curve with such an expansion, as our staff and the FRC teams adjust to some new ways of doing things, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Like a popular quote states, “life does not get better by chance, it gets better with change.”

What’s coming next for your organization that really excites you?

Our FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) competition season for middle and high school robotics teams starts in December, which is very exciting- that’s where you see the kids in action, working and having fun.  The meets are full of energy and music, crazy costumes, comradery, and fantastic robots.  It’s fabulous to watch- and free for spectators!

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?

ConnectVA has been a valuable resource for advertising our job openings to a target audience.  We have also used ConnectVA to secure donated materials for our new 12,500 competition space and headquarters in Mechanicsville.

Anything else you would like to share?

If you have a passion for encouraging young people, we would love to have you volunteer with VirginiaFIRST.  Our competitions require approximately 75-150 volunteers, who encompass a wide variety of skills. Whether you are non-technical or an expert in programming, engineering or electrical design, we have a need for you!  Time commitments range from one day events to weekly meetings with a team.

Volunteers can be as young as 13 years old (with restrictions) – high school students needing community service for graduation are also welcome.   Please visit our website for more information and event schedules:  http://www.virginiafirst.org/volunteer

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