I've always been interested in science and technology, but outside of a few science fair submissions, I never really dabbled in the competitive side of it. In fact, I wasn't really even aware that there were competitive opportunities, so when Walmart asked me to attend the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis, I had no idea what to expect. I envisioned something akin to the Robot Wars TV series, and while it was similar (minus the destructive aspect), I was pleased to discover that the program is so much more than a simple competition.
I'm so glad that I was able to bring my two oldest boys with me. While they weren't thrilled with the prop plane that transported us to our connection in Cleveland, I think the rest of the trip made up for it. They both share my love of science and technology, and the FIRST Robotics Competition really opened their eyes to a world of opportunity, as far as getting involved in the space at an early age.
We started the day off by filming some video at the St. Louis Convention Center, where the event was held. I was surprised at the sheer number of competitors and even more surprised to learn that students from all over the world traveled to participate. One particular team from Brazil still sticks out in my mind -- I loved their enthusiasm, cheering for not only their teammates but other teams, as well.
The aspect of the competition that impressed me the most is the emphasis on teamwork and helping others. The teams are challenged to design and build a robot that can face certain challenges, but in the competition, you must team up with other groups and their robots to perform the tasks. In fact, FIRST has coined their own term for this -- Coopertition. Love it!
The challenge this year required competitors to move balls around an arena, scoring points based on shooting and maneuvering the balls into tight spots, but bonus points were also awarded based on the number of robots on the team that touched the ball before the final scoring action took place.
My boys really fell in love with the FIRST program, especially my 11-year-old who has been lobbying hard to get a program started in our area. I'm willing to help however I can because the benefits of being a member extend far beyond the competitions. Numerous scholarships ($19 million worth this year!) and internships are offered to participants every year, giving them a jump on getting a good college education. Participants in FIRST are 66% more likely to attend college on a full-time bases.
More about FIRST
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a program that inspires youth to become science & technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs to grow STEM skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities. Founded by Dean Kamen in 1989, the program has quickly grown from 28 teams in a high-school gym to reaching close to 250,000 youth the FIRST Championship held in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri.
Walmart became involved in the program after working with Dean Kamen's research company on their global sustainability initiative. The company's interest in supporting kids' education has led them to look at ways to support his vision to get kids excited about science and math, empowering our next generation of engineers.
Learn more about the FIRST organization and find a chapter near you.