REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Aug. 28, 2023) – Growing up, Jeremiah Pigford wanted to drive tanks in the Army.
It was this “growing up” that demanded a change of course however, as he quickly surpassed the Army’s maximum allowable height of 6’1” in high school. Pigford, a data management engineer at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, would eventually reach a height of 6’4” by the time he graduated college.
“I had always enjoyed building and solving problems,” Pigford said. “My mom saw that at an early age began purchasing Lego sets for me around the time I started middle school. This provided a unique creative outlet, as I was never a particularly good artist on paper.”
He found that creating the ideas in his imagination in 3D using Lego bricks was much easier. That love of building influenced him to be a part of a state-championship FIRST Robotics Competition championship team back in his home state of North Carolina. It took him to Auburn University to study aerospace engineering. And after graduation, it led him to DEVCOM AvMC.
FIRST Robotics has played a pivotal part in Pigford’s life. After winning the state championship, Pigford’s team went on to compete in the world championship, held in St. Louis, Missouri.
“There were teams from the Netherlands, teams from Mexico -- from Germany,” Pigford said. “And I was just fascinated with how we were all given the same design challenge, but we came up with such a wide variety of solutions. Seeing what made sense to me and then seeing everyone else's perspectives on the same challenge was amazing. They all brought their own cultural flavor to FIRST Robotics.”
It was his team’s mentor, a mechanical engineering student, who sparked his interest in engineering and later inspired Pigford to become a mentor himself. After settling in Huntsville, Pigford realized that he missed FIRST Robotics and joined a local team as a mentor. It has been a learning curve for him to transition from the student to the teacher role, he said.
“When I first got there, I was still thinking like a student,” Pigford said. “I had never been in the role of a mentor. When I was 13 years old, I was trying to solve the problem, but now I had all this engineering knowledge and wanted to utilize it – I was equipped to solve it. But gradually I learned how to be more hands-off and guide the students in solving the problems themselves.”
Pigford would like to see other engineers and scientists get involved with FIRST Robotics. He said that sharing what he has learned at AvMC has given him the opportunity to pay it forward and be the mentor that might spark his students into a future STEM career.
“It's very rewarding when you see a child struggling with a problem and you can help them succeed using your individual life experiences in your functional area -- whether it's engineering skills or soft skills, like how to work with others. They need to see that roadmap.
"When you mentor on a FIRST Robotics team, you illuminate the path for the students to get to from where they are to where they want to be.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.