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Posted by Bill Olsen on December 02, 2014
Being at a FIRST competition is as thrilling as any massive sporting event, or even a rock concert. It’s exciting, nerve-wracking, and the energy is palpable. There are kids everywhere excitedly following the competition while an emcee is tracking the progress of the matches and pumping up the crowd. Watching one of these competitions for the first time was an “ah ha” moment for me. This is cool.
Earlier this year I had the privilege to again participate as a judge in a FIRSTRobotics Competition held in the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center. There were 54 teams competing and the entire arena was filled! These young competitors exude a raw enthusiasm for their sport that grabs you in such a way that you can’t help but be excited, too.
I watched with amazement at how advanced the kids were in their knowledge of technology and programming principles. At these competitions, they have to problem solve on the spot if something happens to their robots—I saw kids programming in JAVA and using 3D printers to create things to attach to their robots. It’s truly incredible.
I’m proud to work at a firm that cares to be involved with programs like FIRST that encourage the next generation of scientists and technologists. An important fact to know is that kids’ interest in selecting a STEM field of study happens very early, especially for girls. FIRST is an essential gateway into fostering that interest in a diverse and team-oriented way. It creates an enthusiasm for science and technology because participants can see it happening right in front of their eyes in a way that maps to real-world applications.
I’ve been involved in FIRST for three years as part of the Maryland FIRSTExecutive Advisory Board. In addition to getting to discover the excitement of competitions, we also look into ways to continue to enhance and evolve the program. One new thing we’re considering is moving to a district model versus the regional model so more kids in all areas of the state can participate in FIRST.
I can’t say enough about the thousands of volunteers that make the breadth of FIRSTs programs possible—more than 2,000 in Maryland alone coaching kids through all four FIRST programs—starting at age six through high school. Volunteers like Booz Allen’s own Wayne Fuller, who coached his son and daughter through FIRST programs, and now his son is carrying it forward as a coach himself. This is my FIRST impression—a great organization, with committed volunteers, growing kids’ interests in science and technology in one of the coolest ways possible. Hope this makes you interested in getting involved with a FIRST program yourself. It’s worth it! Visit usfirst.org to learn how.