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“My participation in FIRST® definitely influenced the course of my education and my career goals,” says Booz Allen Associate Ashley Cowall. Ashley, a FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) alumna, wasn’t the ‘artsy’ type, so she took drafting as a high school freshmen to fulfill her arts requirement. “My drafting teacher encouraged me to join our school’s FIRST® Robotics Competition team. During my 4 years with the team, we went to two world championships, won a Chairman’s Award, and won the Entrepreneurship Award the first year it was offered. I loved my experiences with FIRST.”
Initial involvement with FIRST turned into employment at a FIRST-operated summer camp. The camp director encouraged Ashley to apply to a month-long summer program offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for rising high school seniors. She was accepted into and attended the program—and the rest is history: She graduated MIT in 2010 with a degree in Operations Research, or as she calls it, “the science of better.”
“I hadn’t been thinking of applying to MIT at all. In fact, the norm was that fewer than 20 percent of kids in my high school left the state for college. If not for my experiences with FIRST, I don’t think I would have gone to MIT. FIRST opened doors for me.”
Ashley’s experience illustrates one reason Booz Allen is a passionate supporter of FIRST. “Whether or not FIRST participants go on to ‘STEM careers,’ the experiences and skills gained through FIRST are making them community and workplace leaders. The opportunity to work as a team to solve a challenge, to communicate their ideas to peers and adults—sometimes while you’re being judged, these experiences are invaluable,” says Lead Associate Christine Hoisington, director of Community Partnerships.
“I hadn’t been thinking of applying to MIT at all. In fact, the norm was that fewer than 20 percent of kids in my high school left the state for college. If not for my experiences with FIRST, I don’t think I would have gone to MIT. FIRST opened doors for me. - Associate and FIRST alumna Ashley Cowall, who is now a FIRST volunteer.”
While Booz Allen has supported FIRST since 2004, the 2015–2016 FIRST season was an inflection point in the partnership. The firm’s multi-faceted support and commitment to helping FIRST grow in the U.S. and abroad led to Booz Allen’s being named a FIRST Strategic Partner, a designation that few supporters have received.
Employees mentor FIRST teams at all age levels (72 teams in the 2015–2016 season) with Booz Allen’s financial support, and the firm supports FIRST events in locations such as San Diego, Boston, San Antonio, Huntsville, Honolulu, and Washington, DC. Employees serve on local and regional boards, advising FIRST’s local growth strategies so more kids can participate in the program—now and for years to come.
Also in 2015, the firm provided pro bono consulting services to help FIRST improve how FIRST data is collected and can be analyzed. “This project has been challenging and fulfilling. Our work will allow FIRST staff to use data analytics in forward-leaning, mission-critical ways—to drive partnerships with funders, to make decisions on FIRST growth, and to track the program’s impact on participants,” says Lead Technologist Catherine Slesnick, a data scientist from Booz Allen’s Boston office and a member of the project team.
“Consulting is our heritage, and by driving innovation and transformation within FIRST, we can achieve greater social impact and business ‘ROI’ than we could by just writing a check,” says Senior Vice President Paul Chi, also a Virginia FIRST Board member. “Our pro bono work will help FIRST reach and inspire more kids around the world—that’s inspiring to me.”