Robotics is not only the province of Silicon Valley high-tech start-ups or university engineering grad students. Inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST as an organization to encourage young people to get involved in STEM activities to prepare for a technology-rich future. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) aims to combine the excitement of sports competition with a deep engagement in learning robotics by building robots. While participating in this program, students gain confidence and learn valuable skills in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The FIRST innovation program teaches students teamwork, problem solving, creativity, and persistence. Mentored by skilled, committed adults, young people from ages 4 to 18 develop skills that will help them better the world.
I’ve seen this first-hand. I can visualize one student in particular, who I’ll call Ali here, evolved from a timid, easily discouraged young person into an energetic, enthusiastic, and resilient teen, pursuing a passion for robotics. Of course, parents, teachers, and Ali’s own inner resources share the credit, yet those who work with students recognize the undeniable power of connection with your passion. This transformation is dramatic at any age. Ali’s experience is not unique as STEM opportunities like FIRST have charged and changed many lives. One team from an underfunded school in Phoenix, Arizona, entered FIRST competitions to build their robotics skills, develop their teamwork, and learn from other robotics enthusiasts from around the country. This team won a national underwater robotics competition against overwhelming odds. I tell their story in my book Teen Innovators.