On Friday, March 5th students from forty-four high school throughout New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Canada participated in the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotic Competition, hosted by The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) In total about 4,000 participants and fans attended the annual competition which is sponsored by a robotics organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) FIRST is a non-profit organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen.
The theme of this year’s competition was “Breakaway” – a robot version of soccer. Five teams qualified for the championship round in Atlanta next month by defeating robots from other teams in the game of Breakaway.
It is essential for schools and STEM related organizations to hold competitions like the First Robotic competition to give students the opportunity to explore science in a fun, hand-on way and to promote an interest in STEM higher education and fields. The competition also increases student’s creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork work skills.
High school physics teacher Ellen Bansik Lewis saw the valuable skills students gain from participation in the program first hand. Lewis coached the FIRST Robotics team at Greenwich High School in Connecticut from 2000 – 2003. “I think that the most impressive aspect of FIRST is how students partner with corporate sponsors, professional engineers, teachers, and their parents and younger brothers and sisters to work as a team, under time constraints, to get a job done that gives them an appreciation for science and technology,” Lewis said.
Lewis saw many of her students go on to college majors and, eventually, careers in the STEM disciplines. “Many of my former students involved in FIRST have gone on to study Engineering or Physics in college. Some of these students had an interest in Science and Technology to begin with, but others found their interest in science because of their participation with the project,” Lewis said.
Yet, Lewis also saw some students gain skills applicable to other disciplines or that could be applied to STEM fields in a non-traditional way. “Many students enjoyed designing and building the robot, others enjoyed the computer programming,” Lewis said, “There were also students involved in the project that focused on marketing, publicity, fund-raising, and travel arrangement aspects. I’ve had students go on to pursue careers in business because of what they got out of the project.”
It is quite possible that someday youngsters who participated in The FIRST Robotics Competition at RIT will be students there in a myriad of fields thanks to the valuable skills they learned through the competition.