Technology, teamwork, and lot more dancing than you might expect…
Mel Blake


Technology, teamwork, and lot more dancing than you might expect…

June 5, 2019

Macquarie alumna Mel Blake (GradCertHis 2017, BEd 2019) first became involved in Robotics when she was in high school and was recruited for the first ever team in Australia (Team 3132) in 2009.  She went on to mentor the team, co-ordinate the LEAP Robotics program at Macquarie and work on a casual basis for FIRST Australia.

She says mentoring Team 3132 was a way of paying back the opportunities the team had given her as a student. Her proudest moment was in 2017, when the team won the Chairman’s Award at the World Championship in Houston – the most prestigious award in FIRST – which recognized the team’s efforts in promoting STEM in Australia and around the world since 2009.

“Volunteering for FIRST has given me an amazing network of contacts in engineering and education that I couldn’t have developed any other way,” says Mel.  “I’m grateful to have met so many different people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.”

Mel is now a Mathematics/History/TAS teacher in the private school system. She has a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) from UNSW, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Ancient History and Bachelor of Education (Secondary) from Macquarie University.

“Robotics is a lot more than just programming,” says Mel when asked why high school students should get involved. “You can learn to run a machine shop, fly a drone, plan a multi-day conference or design a t-shirt. There’s something in it for everyone so just give it a go.”

“Robotics is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives and it’s important that we maintain a sense of curiosity about the technologies that we rely on. Students who study STEM in school are better prepared for university and the workforce and can make better and more informed contributions to society. Even students who aren’t passionate about robotics should have a strong understanding of the science of the world around us.”

Mel Blake and Sarah Heimlich

Alumni Mel Blake (left) (Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award) and Sarah Heimlich (right) (Woodie Flowers Finalist Award) at the Southern Cross Regional 2019

“Volunteering is important because it exposes you to people and ideas you would otherwise probably not have encountered,” says Mel on the importance of volunteering.  “For me as a teacher, it challenges me to interact with students in a completely different environment to the classroom. Volunteering for FIRST is particularly great because it’s such an international program, and you constantly get to meet and work with people from all over the world.”

“FIRST Robotics events are like nothing else out there,” she adds. “Be prepared to see innovative technology, amazing teamwork, and lot more dancing than you might expect.”

“While the events can be very intense and competitive, they are also a lot of fun. We have some great DJs and MCs who love to get everyone dancing whenever there’s some downtime. The cha-cha slice, macarena, and the Brazilian chicken dance are big favourites.”

Mel recalls some of the “crazy things” that have happened because of FIRST Robotics. “On one occasion I was sent to a tech conference to teach a STEM workshop to a group of visiting school students, and somehow ended up explaining robotics to Jessica Mauboy!”

“Another time I had to call campus security to free a trapped pigeon from a lathe. I’ve also wrangled 20+ students through multiple international airports, explained the concept of a spanner to a Chinese robotics team entirely through hand gestures, and had a memorable conversation with an American woman who didn’t believe Australians spoke English!”


FIRST Robotics is currently looking for volunteers for FIRST LEGO League Asia Pacific Open Championships and the FRC Duel Down Under – both competitions taking place in July at Macquarie University.

Words: Jackie Gent


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