Hours of planning. Weeks of practice. Trial and error. And error. Finally, success. That’s a cycle that’s familiar to everyone from elite athletes to successful entrepreneurs.
The young people who participate in FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competitions follow this same cycle, as they face new challenges and build innovative robots. FIRST inspires future science and technology leaders through a mentor-based program that builds practical skills and promotes self-confidence.
AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology recently hosted its first ever Tech Invitational competition at its McLean, Virginia, headquarters. The event showcased the work of three FIRST Tech Challenge robotics teams from the D.C. region. The teams competed in a "Shark Tank"-style contest for a $1,000 cash prize. During their pitches, the students addressed the unique capabilities of their robots, as well as their approach to problem solving and teamwork.
Ultimately, AMT could not pick a winner from among the impressive teams and awarded $1,000 to all three teams. The teams will use the winnings to help fund their upcoming trips to the 2023 FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas in April. The winning teams included: Equilibrium.exe 19458, a team from Potomac, Maryland; electronVolts, a community FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team located in Silver Spring, Maryland; and, FIRST Tech Challenge Team 6417 Blu Cru based in Rockville, Maryland.
“FIRST competitions are so important because teenagers need something to define themselves,” said Jon Vandegriff, the coach for the electronVolts. “If they choose FIRST to be the thing that defines them, it transforms them. They start thinking of themselves as STEM students and as engineers.”
Beyond the hands-on STEM education, students also gain new problem-solving abilities. “The FIRST team members are learning to think critically and problem solve within a team,” explained Blu Cru coach Neil Perkins. “In school, homework and tests are done individually. In the real world, that is rarely the case. We are usually solving problems as part of a team, so this is a valuable technical and interpersonal experience.”
Seelig Sinton, the team coach for Equilibirum.exe, emphasized the mutual benefits of connecting FIRST teams with local manufacturers. “Programs like FIRST are an investment in the future of manufacturing. STEM is a challenging field and the love for it needs to be fostered at a young age,” he explained. “Any company that wants to recruit knowledgeable and dedicated future employees would be wise to sponsor programs like FIRST.”