FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen (right), inventor of the Segway human transport. FIRST was founded to help create the next generation of scientists, inventors, and engineers by providing high school students with challenges that foster an interest and develop skills in engineering, mathematics, and science. In addition, by having students work in teams, FIRST helps build self-confidence as well as teamwork and leadership skills.
How does FIRST accomplish all this? Yearly, FIRST develops a robotics challenge that teams of students, mentored by faculty and community participants, work to solve. Teams design and build a robot to tackle specific elements of each year’s challenge and then compete against robots and teams, first in regional competitions and then in the world championship in St. Louis.
To simulate real world engineering challenges, student teams are given six weeks in which to build a robot that can succeed in a competitive environment. During the build season, students work through all the steps of the design and building process by brainstorming, planning, and designing, prototyping, testing, fabricating, assembling and constantly improving their designs. Teams also work on the business side of the venture by creating and maintaining budgets, organizing fundraising, and developing promotional materials.
Finally, in addition to all the work directly linked to creating the robot and funding the team, FIRST promotes both community involvement and “gracious professionalism.” While everyone loves to win, FIRST is not about winning in the traditional sense. Winning in FIRST is linked to continuing the vision of its founder: to provide inspiration and recognition of the value of science and technology. Teams are expected to mentor new teams and to participate in community events which promote science and technology. They are also expected to be good sports and to help team members and other teams, especially at competitions when teams help their competitors compete by sharing tools, parts, and experience.