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Be inspired at FIRST

Apr 28, 20034 mins

* Getting kids interested in science and technology

On April 12, I took my young son to Reliant Stadium in Houston. Walking into the giant new stadium, we mingled among thousands of teenagers from across America and Canada. Many were dressed in wild outfits and had bizarre hair colors to match their T-shirts. They shouted strange chants. Loud rock music was blaring from the stadium.  I desperately wanted my 8-year old to be inspired by these kids; in fact, to be one of them some day.

Before you call Children’s Protective Services on me, let me explain. April 11 and 12 were special days in Houston. This was the weekend that FIRST held its annual robotics competition in my town. I was thrilled to see this exciting championship in person.

You may recall that I wrote about FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) a few weeks ago, making a plea for new mentors ( After my brief association with the group this spring, I’m more convinced than ever that this is a very worthwhile cause, especially for the computer industry.  The kids served by FIRST are our future chip designers, electronics engineers, robotics engineers, software programmers, etc.  In short, these kids are our future.

The annual championship pits hundreds of teams against each other.  Most of these teams had already won local or regional competitions to reach this stage.  Their challenge was to take a standard kit of components and build a robotic machine that could move a stack of boxes around a playing field.  The groups had just six weeks to design, build and prove their machines.

These teams consist of between 10 and 30 high school age kids, plus a few teachers/mentors.  The real purpose is to expose the students to science, technology and teamwork.  As event chairman Wayne Kinsey, president of Benchmark Research, put it, “The important thing is not whether a team wins or loses.  It’s what the kids learn on the way to the competition.”

Indeed, they must learn a lot.  I stopped to talk to a couple of green-haired boys.  (The team members dye their hair to show team spirit and solidarity.)  Of the three boys, two were graduating from high school this year; the third will graduate next year.  They have all been in FIRST for a few years.  One senior will head off to college to study electrical engineering.  The other plans to study robotics.  The junior can’t wait to get to Texas A&M to join an engineering program.  This story repeated itself over and over as I talked to more participants.

Inventor, entrepreneur and FIRST founder Dean Kamen believes that it is critical we excite students about math, science and technology.  The hands-on experiences the kids get through FIRST get their creative juices flowing and give them crucial analytical skills.  These are life skills that are necessary for success, no matter what career path the student pursues.

Today, FIRST serves about 100,000 kids, ages 9 through 18.  That’s not enough, Kamen says.  His goal is to reach out to millions of kids, especially those who think they can’t succeed in science and technology fields.  To reach this many students, FIRST needs more supporters, especially mentors and sponsors.  Once again, I’ll appeal to your altruistic side and suggest you become a mentor or get your company to sponsor a team – or both.  Find out how you can get involved at

Catch the spirit yourself by looking at Currid & Company’s photo gallery at

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