By MEAGHAN ZIEMBA, Associate Editor, PD&D
If our future lies in the hands of the young innovators who participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition, I’d say we have a pretty bright one ahead of us.
I had the absolute pleasure and privilege to attend the FIRST Robotics competition this year in St. Louis, MO, and it was a huge eye-opener for me. I have never been confronted with so many polite and extremely knowledgeable young people; it truly was a breath of fresh air, and if our future lies in the hands of these young innovators, I’d say we have a pretty bright one ahead of us.
The first day I attended the competition, I have to admit that my energy and enthusiasm was lacking. I dreaded the thought of being surrounded by a bunch of rude teenagers who were unwilling to talk about their robotic creations. Oh, I was proven wrong.
The opening ceremony was so uplifting and energetic, it really helped me wake up and get excited for the rest of the day. We were surrounded by kids and adults dressed in team colors and face paint, waving flags and signs, and chanting their team names and numbers. For as early as it was, it was unbelievable to see how excited all the kids were to get the matches going.
As fellow associate editor Chris Fox and I worked our way through the pits, we were surrounded by kids making final adjustments to their robots; promoting their teams with cheers and noise makers; and scoping out teams to recruit for alliances when the time came for the final matches.
I was a little nervous when it came to our first interview. Not only was it the first time I had to speak in front of a camera for PD&D, but I had to talk to young adults about robotics – a subject in which I have very little experience. But the kids made the experience so fun and enjoyable that I completely forgot we that were even recording.
The amount of knowledge the kids possessed blew me away. From the components that operated their robots, to their willingness and excitement to explain things that I didn’t understand. They talked about the best features, discussed the design process, and told us the things they looked for in other teams to be considered for an alliance. They were so well organized and prepared, I have to admit, I felt overmatched.
The kids expressed their excitement for the FIRST robotics competition, and how it was important to not only meet new people, but to build important skills needed for future career decisions. One team captain even expressed how she was somewhat disappointed how a degree in "everything engineering" wasn’t available because she wanted to do it all – this was after she informed me that she spoke multiple languages and was happy that her school allowed her to take another language class after she completed her required courses for college.
Some of you engineers out there may ask, “What’s the big deal?” Coming from a small town that reports more on afternoon shootings and the latest drug trends, this experience made me feel a bit cheated and disappointed in what some schools offer for extra-curricular activities.
While playing softball and volleyball, and dancing in a few musicals was fun during my high school years, they didn’t really prepare me for any major career decisions by the time I made it to college. I almost flunked out of my first few years because I just wasn’t excited about anything I studied. If I had the opportunity to build robots that could kick a soccer ball or shoot a basketball, I might not be punching away at this keyboard today.
FIRST not only makes kids excited about creating stuff, but about what they want to do for the rest of their lives. They are thinking about society as a whole and how they can contribute to improve it. Many students even talked about how making connections with teams from other countries, and the types of things they could create to bridge gaps that exist between developed and non-developed areas.
These teams were competing against each other while working with each other as well; collaborating and exchanging ideas; cheering each other on and helping one another through the one language they knew best: Robotics. They also exhibited a gracious professionalism throughout the competition. It was quite the site to see, and to know that our future may depend on these young, great minds, I look forward to what they may come up with.
What sort of programs were offered to you in high school that helped you prepare for the future? How important do you think competitions like FIRST are to help students get excited about math, science, and engineering? Tell us your thoughts by posting below or send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.