Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Engineering our future

As engineers and scientists, we're trying to make the world a better place. In addition to our day jobs, there are things we can do off-hours too. If you can take two hours a week from whatever else you are doing and instead continue to be an engineer, I have a suggestion for you. Please be a mentor. You can be the inspiration to an entire classroom of elementary school students to become engineers and scientists when they grow up. In addition, you get a chance to be a kid and even play with toys - engineering toys.

One way is to be a mentor for a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team. Every fall, teams of 4-10 elementary and middle school students get a big box of LEGO pieces and a challenge. By December, they need to have built a fully autonomous robot that will complete as many challenges as possible as well as a presentation on the challenge topic. This year, over 2000 teams participated in regional, national, and international competitions culminating in the FIRST World Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. It's fun to watch how the kids grow through their participation. The shy learn to speak up, the dominant learn to share, and they all get to experience some fun that they may not normally get in their school day.


(image taken from usfirst.org website - yes, the trophy is made of LEGO pieces)

If you want to work with high-schoolers, FIRST also has two other competitions: FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition. While the FLL robots are small and plastic, the FTC and FRC robots get heavier and more powerful. FTC robots are around 24" cubes that weigh 5 pounds and the FRC robots get up to 120 pounds and the size of a refrigerator.

hero_frc_02
(image from usfirst.org website)

40% of FRC participants end up going to engineering school in college. At the FRC finals in Atlanta, I saw 20 colleges with information booths. Athletes aren't the only way to get scholarships now - some schools are giving them out to FRC participants.

Inspire an engineer - get involved. You won't regret it.

2 Comments:

At 6:08 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Coincidentally, the next day I found this article about GM using the FIRST competition to look for engineers:

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008806160374

"At the FIRST Competition, an extravaganza equivalent to the World Series of high school engineering, Hancock was joined by a team of top-level executives led by Tom Stephens, GM's executive vice president of global powertrain and global quality."

""Sports are great, rock bands are great. But what's more important to society?" Stephens said. "These are some of the people who will help solve some of the world's major issues for years to come.""

"At this year's competition, GM may have won at least one convert.
Kabrina Adams, a high schooler from one of Pontiac's rougher neighborhoods, always thought she'd follow her mother and aunts into a career as a nurse. But after making it to the FIRST finals, Adams said her plans have changed.
"I think I want to be an engineer," she said. "And go work for GM.""

 
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