The Fikret Yüksel Foundation was established in 1998 by Fikret Yüksel who graduated from Darüşşafaka (a boarding school for financially destitute children who have lost one or both of their parents).
He went on to attend İstanbul Technical University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard, graduating with degrees in Civil, Structural, and Soils Engineering. He worked on various engineering projects in Türkiye and the U.S., including designing significant parts of the above ground portions of the Alaska Pipeline.
He then “retired” from engineering, and went into real estate with his daughter, Susan Burchard. Together they built up Yüksel Incorporated which owns and operates residential apartment complexes in Washington and Florida. Upon his death, he willed the corporation to fund a foundation supporting the education of Turkish students with a special emphasis on his alma mater, Darüşşafaka.
Today the Foundation is headed by Alex, son of Susan, and employs one of the first beneficiaries of the foundation, Ayşe Selçok, who is also a graduate of Darüşşafaka, as the foundation’s Turkish Representative. They have a team of highly dedicated individuals working with them, and an even bigger team of wonderful hard working Volunteers helping out.
The Foundation is funded mainly by the profits of Yüksel Incorporated with additional support from corporate sponsors.
Donations to the Foundation are eligible to be written off for tax purposes, as the Foundation is a not for profit 501 (c) (3) classified entity.
The Foundation has an office at PERPA Ticaret Merkezi (B Blok, 2nd floor, No. 58) that it uses for storage, education sessions, meetings, and as regular office space.
The Foundation focuses on improving education for Turkish students primarily through getting them involved in FIRST® Programs.
We believe that FIRST®’s mission and vision closely align with ours, and FIRST®’s Slogan – “More than Robots” is exactly why we do this. The Gracious Professionalism, and Coopertition part of the FIRST®Program is extremely important for our youth to learn.
Additionally, the program teaches an incredibly wide range of skills, only a portion of which are actually related to the robot itself.
Our mission is to spread FIRST®programs to as many students as possible in Turkey.
We accomplish our mission by working with teams to help them join the competition. We assist teams with training, funding, and advice. We also organize the competitions they compete in. We are preparing the Turkish youth for the 21st Century and beyond.
The foundation has helped hundreds of teams compete in FIRST® programs at all three levels.
Why does the Fikret Yüksel Foundation carry out its mission through the use of FIRST Programs?
The Fikret Yüksel Foundation was founded in 1998 to support education in Türkiye. The foundation was run by Fikret’s daughter, Susan, and her husband Gary following the passing of Fikret in 2001 due to cancer. Up until 2007 the foundation donated to Darüşşafaka, as Fikret was extremely grateful for the education he received there. In 2005, Susan and Gary’s son Alex started high school in Tacoma, Washington. Susan wanted her son to be social and make friends in high school, so she told Alex to join at least one club at the school club fair. Alex’ dream since he was a child was to be a skyscraper architect and city manager.
When we attended the school’s club fair, the activities he saw as most likely to help him achieve those goals were the FIRST Robotics Competition team 360, FBLA, Debate, and Chess Clubs. (In the end, the chess and debate clubs never really formed, but the Robotics team and FBLA did and Alex continued in those throughout high school). On his first year on the team, Alex worked on Mechanical and CAD drawings for the team – he saw this as a good way to get a start at learning to draw on the computer to become an architect. His second year he took on the task of the annual 3D animation project (which he completely failed to finish on time). Throughout this period, he was a part of the team, he helped out where he could, learned a ton, made great friends, volunteered to help carry out FIRST programs for students younger than high school, and attended the competitions for the high school robotics team.
Susan and Gary were very curious where Alex was spending all his time! To find out, they traveled to Portland, Oregon with the team to the Pacific NorthWest Regional each year, and saw first hand what the competition was all about. They saw thousands of young adults competing, having the time of their lives, and doing something extremely productive all at the same time, and they became huge fans of the program. They saw how 40-50 teams competed together for three days, and how they all worked together. They saw the meaning of FIRST’s core values, and how well the teams applied those values in their work. They saw how the teams were constantly helping each other, how they were not trying to destroy each other on the field to get an easy win, but they were working so that everyone reached their potential. And they saw how bright young minds were celebrated like soccer stars!
Outside of the competition days, they saw their son and his team, and how they took what they learned, and did what they could to teach younger kids, how they gave back to their community, how hard they worked to encourage people to take an interest in STEM fields. They fell in love with the program, seeing how it encouraged students at such a young age. Beginning in 2008, they directed Darüşşafaka to use their annual donations specifically for the creation and continued support of a FIRST Robotics Competition Team. Susan and Gary wanted the students from the school Fikret graduated from to have the same opportunities as the students at the school their son attended in Tacoma had.
In the winter of 2008, Gary and Susan asked Darüşşafaka to send one male student, one female student, and one teacher to the U.S. to see FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics Competitions in person, and decide which competition they felt ready to compete in, and capable of maintaining. The school sent Ayşe Selçok Kaya, Anıl Cici, and Müge Tuvay to these events, and these three chose to go full steam ahead with FRC. In the summer of 2008, a group of students from Alex’ team went with Susan and Gary to İstanbul, and helped set up FRC Team 2905’s workshop, as well as to run a summer camp to inspire students at Darüşşafaka who were struggling to keep up with their academic careers.
The team started in the 2009 LUNACY Season. After a long struggle with customs, they recieved their kit of parts with about 2 weeks left in the build season (In those times, the build season was limited to only 6 weeks). Gary and Emerson Lamb(an alumni of Alex’s team, Team 360) flew over to mentor the team as they prepared for their regional. Team 2905 competed in their first event, the Microsoft Seattle Regional, alongside Team 360 and many other teams. While in the U.S., they stayed in the home of Susan and Gary, and were able to experience a new culture.
In 2010 Anıl left Darüşşafaka, and started a new team at his new school in Büyükçekmece. That year in Ankara, team 3390 also got its start. In 2011 Anıl changed schools again and started team 3646. Every year, Gary would fly to Istanbul with anyone who wanted to help, to mentor teams who needed extra assistance in January/February. The foundation would help teams who needed financial assistance as requested in those years. Susan and Gary (and Alex when he could take time from his university programs) would attend the regionals the Turkish teams attended when possible in order to be their cheering section, and to help them with any issues they faced during the competitions. After a number of teams started, Susan began to think more long term, and made the decision to hire people to work within Türkiye with the goal of running official FIRST Robotics Competitions Regionals in Türkiye, so that more teams could access the program.
At the same time, this would make it easier for teams to find sponsors, and convince their schools of the benefits of the program. FRC is very difficult to explain with words, however, once a person walks through the stadium doors, sees the competition, and speaks with the students, it becomes very easy to understand. In order to reach a wider segment of the Turkish population, and provide this wonderful opportunity to more Turkish students, organizing the competitions within Türkiye was necessary.
In 2015 8 teams from Türkiye competed in U.S. Regionals. Susan wanted to involve more students, so in order to run unofficial competitions – Off-Seasons – to show the program to Turkish society, she hired Ayşe Selçok Kaya. In May of 2015, as Alex graduated from University (during which he had been a part of the Midwest Regional Planning Committee, helped run FTC in Illinois, and volunteered at every level of FIRST in the state of Illinois), Susan hired him to work with Ayşe with the goal of meeting all the necessary criteria to run an official regional in Türkiye, and running said regional. In the fall of 2015 the Foundation ran its first Off-Season with 27 teams.
For the three years following the Foundation continued to start more teams by running annual Off-Seasons. In 2018 the Foundation finally earned the right to hold official FRC Regionals, and ran its first event in March of 2018 – the İstanbul Regional. In 2019 with the rapid increase in teams, the Foundation ran two events, the İstanbul and Bosphorus Regionals. In 2020 the foundation continued with two events, which we were fortunate to have been able to hold without issue before the COVID shutdowns occured.
In 2022 the Foundation held three events, İstanbul, Bosphorus, and İzmir Regionals, In 2023 the Foundation held the İstanbul, Bosphorus, and Haliç Regionals.