by Karin Dykeman –Liverpool High School -2006
Picture Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, full of thousands of screaming teenagers chanting, cheering, and applauding wildly. Are they there to see Carlos Gutierrez, U. S. Secretary of Commerce? Are they there to see Sergey Brin, co- founder of Google? More likely you’re thinking they’re there to see the latest hot band. Instead, those screaming teenagers are there to see and cheer for robots they built. Welcome to FIRST’s National Championship Event.
FIRST is anacronym representing For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, an organization that was founded in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen with the simple goal of changing the world. Kamen is using FIRST to replace in kids' minds today’s sports and celebrity heroes, with heroes in science, technology, and engineering, so that students will aspire to use their technical and intellectual skills to make the world a better place. FIRST Robotics does this by designing a yearly competition in which high school students, working in partnership with professional engineers and other mentors, design, build, and compete with a radio controlled robot they have developed from nothing more
than their own ideas and a few supplied parts. Teams have six weeks from the time the game is revealed in early January to ship a fully functional 120 pound, 2 1/2’ x 3’ x 5’ robot to one of more than 30 regional competitions around the world. If you think that sounds like a tough thing to do, you’re wrong. It’s an unbelievably tough thing to do. It is six weeks of late nights and long weekend days spent thinking, machining, building, testing, and rebuilding. It can cost over $10000 to underwrite one year’s participation. However, as FIRST participants have been known to say, it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have. Fun? It’s fun, because it’s unbelievably rewarding both for adults and students.
In addition to invaluable experience and life changing inspiration, students become eligible for more than $8 million in scholarships through their participation. They get to experience a thrill, a high, and a good shot of self esteem through hard work and perseverance. They get to see what it's like to be both cooperative and fiercely competitive at the same time. It's a chance for them to see that "gracious professionalism" will get them farther and make them more proud of themselves and their teammates than cut-throat tactics will. For teachers, it’s not only the pleasure of watching students grow as individuals and in skill, but also to see their technology education programs get reinvigorated and get some good PR. If you’re interested in bringing to your school some real world experience in design, engineering, teamwork, and excitement, check out usfirst.org and find out how to start a FIRST Robotics, LEGO League, or Vex team. Oh, and about Carlos Gutierrez and Sergey Brin? They were there, but instead of the kids being there to see them, they came to see the kids and their
This article is part of a series that Steve Poydock has been gathering and sending over to me for the blog. We will be posting them each week, however we are looking for more contributions.