• United States

Your guiding hand

Mar 31, 20034 mins

* How your knowledge could help shape the minds of future IT execs

Did you ever have a mentor? Did someone get you interested in computers and show you that working with technology could be fun as well as financially rewarding?  Chances are, you did.  I think most of us in the IT field can fondly remember at least one person who helped steer us toward a career involving technology.  (Mine was a high school math teacher.)

Now that you are an IT professional with extraordinary knowledge and skills, isn’t it time for you to become a mentor to a young kid in need of some inspiration?  Consider giving some of your time and talent to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the organization that teaches that science, engineering and technology are serious fun.

The vision of FIRST is to inspire in young people, their schools and communities, an appreciation of science and technology and an understanding that mastering these can enrich the lives of all.  The organization’s mission is to design accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering.

FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor and founder of DEKA Research and Development.  Among other things, Kamen is known as the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter, also known as “Ginger” or “IT.” 

Kamen launched FIRST to spread his love of science to kids and communities all over the world.  “We want to show young people that science is not reserved for some small group of people who have a genetic predisposition for it,” Kamen says.  “We want to help make scientists and engineers out of students who don’t think they can be.”  Today, FIRST serves more than 650 teams of students in the U.S. and abroad.

FIRST uses several avenues to engage kids, as well as future mentors like you. 

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams of high school students and their mentors to solve a complex problem in a six-week time frame using a standard “kit of parts” and a common set of rules.  Teams build robots from these parts and test the solution to the problem in a series of competitions.  The goal is not simply to build the robot, but to build a collaborative team, a supportive community and a solid strategy for problem solving during the competition.  While scoring points during the competition is good, the better lessons come with design excellence, demonstrated team spirit, gracious professionalism, and the ability and maturity to overcome obstacles.

Reaching out to younger kids, FIRST has joined with LEGO Company to develop the FIRST Junior Robotics competition, which draws students from the nine to 14 year-old age group.  Like its “big brother” competition, the Junior Robotics Competition gives the teams a challenge that they must solve within eight weeks.  Using LEGO Mindstorms parts and elements like sensors, motors and gears, teams gain hands-on experience in engineering and computer programming principles as they construct and program their own robot inventions.

One more way that FIRST engages the kids is through the FIRST Place working lab, a place for young minds to explore.  Located in Manchester, N.H., FIRST Place creates hands-on learning experiences such as robotics workshops, summer camps and field trips.

Computers. Robots. Kids.  What more could you ask for in terms of a way to give back to your community, all while having fun yourself?  As a mentor with FIRST, you can help prepare the talent pool, workforce, leaders and technologically literate citizens of tomorrow.  To find out how you can volunteer, visit  FIRST also is looking for corporate sponsors, so bring your company along for the thrill, and help generate interest in your company among the workers of tomorrow.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at