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12 Feb. 2020 | Comments (0)

Strategic partnerships with nonprofits are increasingly important to companies that understand the business case for community engagement. For Atlanta-based Novelis, the global leader in aluminum rolled products and the world’s largest recycler of aluminum, a decade-long collaboration with For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology (FIRST), an international youth organization that inspires young people to be science and technology leaders, has helped the company innovate and advance its diversity and inclusion goals in its home market and abroad.

The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) gives high school students real-world engineering experience. Novelis began by funding a handful of teams and competitions then increased its support to include the provision of aluminum to every FRC team globally. The company also sponsors nearly 50 teams around the world, including at least one team in every market in which it operates. In addition to the financial and materials support, Novelis engineers serve as mentors to FRC teams, thus helping to nurture young scientific minds.

One of those mentors is Dave Gaensbauer, Vice President, Rolling and Finishing Technology, Novelis Fellow, and President of Georgia FIRST Robotics. “Novelis realizes the high potential and ingenuity of the bright, young people on FIRST teams,” Gaensbauer observed. He went on, “they are already adept at innovating at a pace we would like to emulate at Novelis. Accordingly, we have created unique opportunities to engage FIRST students in improving our internal innovation skills.”

One example of this engagement is having FIRST students work with the Novelis Fellowship Track Program, a group of the most exceptional, innovative engineers and scientists across the Novelis global technical community. In a 2019 gathering of this elite group, Novelis colleagues paired up with one of the best FIRST Robotics teams in Georgia, East Cobb Robotics, to rapidly design an aluminum can recycling robot.

The partnership yielded several innovative concepts in less than a day, and the Novelis-funded East Cobb team is now combining the best features into a machine dubbed “CanBot.” In April of 2020, Novelis will showcase the robot at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of two professional sports teams.

Novelis has also created opportunities for FRC team members to share their innovative ideas with the company through paid internships at Novelis’ Global Research and Technology center in Kennesaw, Georgia. For six weeks, interns work with Novelis engineers to develop practical solutions to real-world problems. Several of these projects have resulted in innovations at Novelis and the company has patents pending featuring the names of FRC participants alongside Novelis employees.

Gaensbauer envisions FRC interns eventually becoming full-time employees of Novelis. He noted that “through our innovative internship program and the mentoring of local teams where we operate, more and more Novelis employees are realizing the capability of students with FIRST robotics experience.” And continued, “we are now actively looking for full-time employee candidates with FIRST experience. In the longer term, we hope to have an ongoing program to hire some of our former interns who worked with us in their high school years. These students are diverse, creative, goal-oriented, and know the power of teamwork—all of which are extremely important to the future success and culture at Novelis.”

Expanding globally

Because they have found that it’s an effective way to get young people into STEM, Novelis is seeking to replicate the example from Georgia in more of its markets around the world. To that end, in 2019, the company held events in Brazil and South Korea to promote the benefits of FRC to the community and the company.

In Brazil, there is a large discrepancy in the quality of education between private and public schools, a gap that FRC can help bridge. Novelis held an internal workshop at its largest manufacturing plant in Pindamonhangaba, São Paulo, at which more than 60 employees learned about FIRST directly from local youth involved in the program. Several of the participants shared how FIRST had changed their life trajectories by giving them a sense of purpose. Novelis employees drove a robot built by the participants and saw firsthand the students’ accomplishments. Plant employees are now developing a plan to become more involved as mentors to existing FRC teams and are considering creating a new team in 2020 for young people in the community surrounding the plant.

In Korea, Novelis partnered with FRC Korea to host the first “Robot and Coding Workshop” in Yeongju. During the workshop, 80 local students experienced robotics and coding hands-on, with guidance from FIRST teachers and 15 Novelis Yeongju plant volunteers. Along with the workshop, parents participated in a seminar on “Education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Novelis subsequently recruited and supported the participation of four robotics teams from Yeongju and adjacent communities in the Korea Robot Championship, held in January 2020.

The Novelis-FRC partnership exemplifies the type of corporate-nonprofit collaboration that promotes community impact and business value. After ten years, it also demonstrates the importance of long-term collaboration and the mutual benefits that can be achieved as trust between organizations grows.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

    Full Bio | More from Alex Parkinson


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