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FIRST Robotics - Sport for the mind

A student at this year's FIRST Robotics championship prepares her team’s robot for action in the arena at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis

Ron Bookout/Boeing

A student at this year’s FIRST Robotics championship prepares her team’s robot for action in the arena at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The team was sponsored by Boeing.

On the floor of St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome, an arena usually populated with professional football players and fans during NFL games, a different contest was being played out.

Described as a “sport for the mind”, the FIRST Robotics Championship took place in St. Louis April 27-30. More than 10,000 students from all over the world competed head-to-head with five- foot robots they designed and built themselves. This FIRST – which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” – season, more than 150 teams were supported by Boeing grants and mentors, and 29 of those teams made it to the championships.

In an atmosphere that can only be described as energetic, electrifying and controlled chaos, the teams skillfully maneuvered their robots to complete difficult tasks. The tight turns and time frames put each team to the test. The goal was to capture a place in the finals, but if you talk to the students, it’s more than a competition.

“I love the team work,” said high school student Alisha Saxena of FIRST Robotics team 1899. The robotics club traveled to St. Louis from Bellevue, Wash., where three of their mentors are Boeing engineers. “There is a lot of gracious professionalism here. Everyone helps each other. It’s a sense of community,” said Saxena.

Eric Sun, a junior at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash., was on a Boeing-funded team that made it to the finals. “This is amazingly fun, and it’s so cool to be at the championships,” Sun said. “It’s great to visit with the hundreds of teams here and talk to them about how they built their robots. It’s really not about winning but the overall experience.”

Sun plans to pursue a mechanical or biomedical engineering degree. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but FIRST has made me think about other career opportunities,” said Sun.

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg visited with several Boeing-sponsored teams, including Team 1899 from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.

Ron Bookout/Boeing

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg visited with several Boeing-sponsored teams, including Team 1899 featured in this photo from Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.

It’s not just the students who are affected by the FIRST organization and this competition. Boeing mentor Jason Marr out of Portland, Ore., describes this as a life-changing experience.

“I’ve grown so much with these kids, and the transition that takes place is absolutely amazing,” said Marr. “FIRST not only teaches the students the technical skills necessary to succeed in a technological career, but it also builds self-confidence and teaches them how to work with a team.”

Boeing mentor Brandon Wegge out of St. Louis was on one of the Boeing-sponsored teams that made it to the championship.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” Wegge said. “They’ve worked so hard to get here, and we couldn’t do it without Boeing’s support. In addition to the grant Boeing gave us, the company also matched our volunteer efforts, which significantly reduces the fundraising burden on the team and allows the students to focus on spending countless hours together building their robot.”

The contest is truly global. Around the Edward Jones Dome, students from all over the world wore the traditional dress of their native countries.

Parin Rasin and her fellow team mates traveled from Saudi Arabia to compete in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition. They built a small robot out of LEGO game pieces and an attached motor. Putting the mini-robots onto a challenging obstacle course taught Rasin teamwork.

“We are so excited to be here,” said Rasin. “It’s an amazing experience, I have met so many people who share the same interest in robots that I do.”

Fans and supporters of FIRST Robotics teams cheer from the stands at the 2011 FIRST Robotics Championship held in St. Louis

Ron Bookout/Boeing

Fans and supporters of FIRST Robotics teams cheer from the stands at the 2011 FIRST Robotics Championship held in St. Louis. These fans are waving the Mexican national flag in support of their team who traveled to the event. More than 10,000 students from around the world attended the annual championship.

Several Boeing-mentored teams won awards for their outstanding achievements during the competition. The Gateway Institute of Technology & St. Louis Public Schools team 931, mentored by Boeing employee Nathan Dudley, won the Cooperation Award, and team 1983 from Aviation High School in Des Moines, Wash., mentored by Boeing employee Gary P. Miller was honored with the Creativity Award. Team 687 from the California Academy of Math & Science, mentored by Boeing employee Colon Gardner, was recognized with the Entrepreneurship Award.

This is the third year of Boeing’s national partnership with FIRST, valued at more than $1 million per year and designed to encourage students to explore careers in math and science. Boeing also offers six scholarships annually to FIRST participants attending select universities. For more information visit the scholarship section of www.usfirst.org.

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg attended the opening ceremonies at the event and visited with several of the Boeing-mentored teams.

“When you talk to these kids, they will tell you that for the first time they realize they can be an engineer or have a technological career and make a difference in the world,” said Muilenburg. “I look around and see the future of Boeing in these students’ capable hands.”