As a product of a STEM education, I jump at the chance to give back to the community. I knew at age four that I wanted to be some type of engineer. Don’t ask me how I knew, but I knew. At that time, there weren’t many extra-curricular activities for the young science and technology driven minds in my area. Outside of the usual Science Fair, I don’t recall opportunities for students like myself to do more. During high school, I found my way into technical drawing classes and competitions to help satisfy my passion for Science & Technology. However, that wasn’t enough. I wished for something fun, something challenging, and something competitive.
A few months ago, I was able to sit in on a presentation for an organization name FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and I was immediately intrigued. “FIRST is a not-for-profit organization devoted to helping young people discover and develop a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).”( www.usfirst.org ) One of the main components of the FIRST organization is their Robotics competition. Throughout the year they host different competitions with opportunities for not only school teams to compete; homeschool and community teams are welcome to compete as well. There are leagues for kindergarten age all the way through seniors in high school.
The 4 levels within the FIRST framework are:
Jr. FIRST Lego League (Jr. FLL) – Grades K-3
FIRST Lego Challenge (FLL) – Grades 4-8
FIRST Tech League (FTC) – Grades 7-12
FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) – Grades 9-12
This past weekend, I was able to volunteer as a judge for a FTC competition in Richmond, VA. I can’t begin to describe the excitement I felt as I walked into that gym (before the sun came up, which is unheard of) early Saturday morning. These students were so enthusiastic about the robots that they had been working so hard on! My face was literally hurting from the smile I tried to so hard to hide behind my nonexistent poker face during team interviews. For this specific group, they were issued a challenge and their robots had to complete said challenge. There were students as young as 11 saying that they were learning programming languages, and had hopes of one day becoming engineers. I encountered multiple teams with full organization charts with titles listed such as CEO, CFO, electrical and mechanical lead, and marketing team members. The part that impressed me most was that even though they spent hours upon hours brainstorming, prototyping, and building; every student was having a blast.
FIRST doesn’t focus solely on the competition side of things. One of the requirements for each team is community outreach and fundraising. They make sure that each team reaches back and spreads the name of STEM wherever they are. Students learn the value of a dollar through their fundraising efforts, and the importance of recycling as they re-use parts from previous years robots.
I was so excited that I was there in that moment, to be a part of this competition. There were multiple female teams competing and I believe one of the highest number of female participants they had seen in a FTC competition. Not only were the young ladies there in full force, I saw a strong African American student presence as well. I am truly passionate about minorities and STEM. I hold that subject very close to my heart and FIRST is an awesome way for us to get involved!
Needless to say, I was completely blown away. The entire day, my inner child was wishing I could roll the clock back a few years. (Yes, I said a few years) I could literally go on and on about how amazing this opportunity was for not only the students, but me as well. If you, or any one you know is interested in participating in a FIRST competition in your area, click this link to get involved! www.usfirst.org