The future of engineering: FIRST things first

By Sam Crites,
SCS eighth grader
With all of the new technology and resources that are coming into play, the scale of engineering and technology is getting more and more massive all the time. But it will be the next generation that will have the chance to harness and fill this gap. How can we get more kids to get into engineering to do this? The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) foundation is doing just this, holding annual robotics competitions for kids from kindergarten through college. They are giving kids a firsthand experience in the world of engineering, and by doing so, making the world a better place.
FIRST has many different leagues that are unique for each age group. The FLL league (FIRST LEGO League, grades 4-8) and Jr. FLL (Jr. FIRST LEGO League, grades K-3) have an opportunity to work with LEGO MINDSTORMS bots, a plastic, youth-oriented system with a fun and simple programming system for an easy start into engineering and technology. After getting lots of experience with the MINDSTORMS bots, you have the opportunity to go the next level with the FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge, grades 7-12) and FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition, grades 9-12) leagues, when you then work with the TETRIX platform. TETRIX uses much stronger motors and metal parts, which have a much more open source and rugged feel to the robotics. You have the opportunity to work with some very strong robots with many extreme capabilities.
The founder of FIRST, Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway), has a vision of more children being exposed to technology. In his own words, his goal is “[to] transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” And at the Champlain Maker Faire two years ago, we had the privilege of Dean Kamen himself giving a speech. It was certainly one of the most amazing experiences that I had ever had. With organizations like FIRST, we can achieve this goal, making the world of science and engineering one that children would like to be part of.