I never tire of hearing this story. Dean Kamen, founder of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which took place in Detroit on April 27, came up with the idea when he realized that people weren’t idolizing those with STEM talent the same way we look up to athletes.
Creating a competition would elevate these skills to a national level of interest and give these students their rightful place in society. So in 1989, he created FIRST.
Kamen was right – 17,000 students (age 6-18) showed up in Detroit. The four-day event was attended by more than 43,000 people. Four teams from Brighton, Mich.; Sterling Heights, Mich.; Eindhoven, Netherlands; and Philadelphia, Pa., were the FIRST Robotics Competition Winning Alliance for this year’s game, DESTINATION: DEEP SPACE ,presented by The Boeing Co. Teams from Vincentown, N.J.; Hollis, N.H.; and Mundelein, Ill., were the FIRST Tech Challenge Winning Alliance for ROVER RUCKUS, presented by Qualcomm.
The enthusiasm at the event is matched by Kamen’s. I talked to Dean a few years ago, and he was so impressed with the level of talent these kids had and how they are becoming the future workforce. This competition has fed students into the field. I have talked with companies who said that these types of competitions have resulted in students joining their companies.
Part of the success of bringing these students into companies is that companies are mentors in the competition. "Mentoring is incredibly rewarding,” said Spring Beasley, director of customer engineering at Boeing and mentor to Reign Robotics, an all-girls FIRSTRobotics Competition team in Seattle. “ At the beginning of the season, we have people who come in and say, ‘I don't know if I can do this.’ And by two weeks in, they are grabbing tools and figuring out what they can do and trying things out — it's incredible. This experience is echoed by the more than 500 Boeing mentors supporting FIRST teams this season.”
Boeing joins a long list of companies supporting the competition. The 2019 FIRST Championship Event Sponsors include: ABB; The Abbott Fund; Bechtel Corp.; Delta Air Lines The Dow Chemical Co. DTE Energy; FCA Foundation; FedEx; Ford Motor Co.: Keysight Technologies; Lockheed Martin Corp.; National Instruments; Nokia Bell Labs; Rockwell Automation; TE Connectivity; Toyota USA Foundation; Two Sigma Investments; and United Technologies.
The 2019 FIRST Championship Key Sponsors include: ARMI | BiofabUSA; Autodesk; BAE Systems; BOSCH; The Coca-Cola Co. Consumers Energy; Gene Haas Foundation; Hilton; Mouser Electronics; PwC US; Texas Instruments; United Therapeutics Corp.: and ZF North America, Inc.
FIRST, which is based in Manchester, N.H., has received support from over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies and more than $80 million in college scholarships. There are now a number of competitions including the FIRST® Robotics Competition for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League for Grades 4-8; and FIRST® LEGO® League Jr. for Grades K-4.
The growth of these competitions has proven that Kamen’s vision was on spot. As he told me during the interview, “Let’s find superstars from the world of tech. We can make a real difference with what happens in this world.”