When Anthony Watson moved to Detroit from Liberia in his teens, he had never seen a robot before. But getting involved with FIRST Robotics in high school changed the trajectory of his life. Now more than 20 years later, Watson is still giving back to FIRST and to his native Liberia.

Watson, an Engineering Technician based out of the Trombly Service Center, joined the Cass Tech FIRST Robotics team in 1998. “It opened my eyes to a lot of avenues,” he says. “I was able to interact with engineers, which gave me a perspective as to what I wanted to do. I saw how the robot materialized from ideas on paper to something that could move.”

Anthony (far right) volunteers at the FTC Championship in Warren December 2019.

Not only did FIRST spark an interest in engineering—it placed him on a path to a career. He saw how involved companies like DTE were with FIRST. By making connections with DTE early on, he became a summer student at our company in high school, then came back in college as a co-op in Electrical Field Operations at the Warren Service Center until he was hired on full-time.

One of the most important aspects of FIRST is something that’s carried through into his adult life—a strong sense of community. He saw how this kind of program can bring communities and schools together, so different groups can get to know each other. Watson’s community reaches far beyond metro Detroit.

Last spring, we profiled his nonprofit—Loving Arms for Liberia. The nonprofit organization collects items for people in the war-torn country, and he and his family have delivered much-needed items—and hope—to their homeland.

Last summer included one of their largest shipments. Loving Arms for Liberia collected bikes, refurbished laptops, clothes and school supplies which they sent and delivered overseas. The supplies came in DTE-branded FIRST Robotics bags.

“We refurbished laptops from our company and built a computer lab. Some of these kids walk 5-10 miles to school, so delivering bikes helped change their lives. We also brought food to feed 250 kids and collected clothes for kids who didn’t have the means to buy clothes.”

Anthony stands in a new classroom in Liberia with refurbished laptops from DTE.

Watson and his sister will return with more donations in two different trips this summer.

Along with running a nonprofit, Watson spends time volunteering at FIRST events as a judge. He also visits different service centers to talk about mentorship and get more employees involved with FIRST.

“There are a lot of kids out there that don’t realize that there are so many things you can do in life,” he says. “FIRST gives these kids opportunities to write business plans, fundraise, practice carpentry and electrical work—so many skills they didn’t know they could do. Because of FIRST, I am what I am today.”

Cass Tech is one of 25 FRC teams DTE sponsors this year. Over 100 employees and retirees volunteer at events or mentor teams.

FIRST depends on volunteers to help students succeed, and we’re proud that DTE employees give their time back to this program,” says Tracy DiSanto, manager, Workforce Planning & Development. “Anthony’s story is just one example of how someone can take these skills learned in FIRST, build a career and give back to their community.”