Thursday 2 May 2013

Our second FIRST story!

This is the second story (Creating young scientists! 1/5/2013) in as many days on that unique organisation founded to foster science and technology among the youth of today. The Irish phrase "Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí!" (Praise youth and it will come!) comes to mind when we think of this organisation and whenever one comes across any of their "happenings" - such as the one described here - one cannot but be impressed by their enthusiasm and exuberence.

Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in the USA, FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering.
With support from three out of every five Fortune 500 companies and nearly $15 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST®Robotics Competition (FRC® ) and FIRST®Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for high-school students, FIRST®LEGO® League (FLL® ) for 9 to 14-year-olds, (9 to 16-year-olds outside the U.S. and Canada) and Junior FIRST®LEGO® League (Jr.FLL®) for 6 to 9-year-olds. Gracious Professionalism is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. 
As strategic alliance partners of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the International Society of Automation (ISA) and the Automation Federation took part in last week’s FIRST Championship, an annual international celebration of young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

More than 10,000 students from around the globe, from ages 6 to 18, gathered April 24-27 in St. Louis (Missouri, USA) to put their engineering skills and scientific know-how to the test in three different age-specific, team-oriented programs. This year’s event drew nearly 650 student teams from 37 countries around the world, and attracted more than 2,800 mentors, coaches and adult supporters, and over 750 event volunteers. (See short wrap-up video below!)

One of the highlights of the three-day event was the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which combined the excitement of sport with the rigors of designing and building robots. The competition provides students, from grades 9 through 12, with the opportunity to use sophisticated software and hardware, learn from professional engineers, collaborate, earn recognition, and qualify for millions of dollars in college scholarships. This year, more than 2,500 teams in 17 countries participated in 77 FRC regional and district competitions.

During this year’s FIRST activities and competitions, ISA and the Automation Federation hosted an informational exhibit where students involved in FIRST learned about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field.

“This event continues to amaze me each and every time I go,” proclaims Steven Pflantz, vice president of ISA’s Professional Development Department who was among a contingent of ISA and Automation Federation leaders and staff that attended. “The positive energy from all these kids having fun, being challenged and competing in this way is uplifting and awe inspiring. This is a remarkable and talented group of kids, and a lot of them are potential future automation professionals. Based on the energy and commitment they show, the future looks bright for the automation profession.”

Robert Lindeman, Chairman of the Automation Federation and 2012 ISA President, came away equally as impressed: “It was truly eye opening to see these young people so motivated to learn and apply engineering skills. If we can harness this energy, I feel there is no limit to our future, and no boundary that these students cannot reach in leading us there.”
The FRC competition, Pflantz points out, also “provides the practical skills and real-world experience that young technical professionals need to succeed in the workplace. From budgeting and scheduling to meeting deadlines and working together, these students are required to meet very realistic project scenarios that even seasoned professionals would find challenging.”
Lindeman says that by applying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge in a non-traditional, fun environment that stresses the importance of teamwork, problem solving and innovation, FIRST events are highly successful.

“Fostering interest and enthusiasm among young people is critical to developing the new engineers and technicians needed to meet the challenges of the future,” Lindeman asserts.

Most government and corporate leaders in the US echo this point of view, insisting that directing more students toward science and technology will boost American innovation and economic strength. Certainly, demand is growing for graduates in these fields.

In the US, for example, the number of science and engineering jobs this past decade has grown three times more quickly than jobs in other sectors, according to a 2012 report from the US Department of Commerce.

At the same time, however, colleges and universities aren’t producing enough graduates to fill the jobs. Just half of college students who start with a science- or math-related major graduate with this type of degree, the report says, placing the US near the bottom of industrialized countries in this area.

Both Pflantz and Lindeman agree that more needs to be done to encourage STEM learning among young people and to expand awareness about careers in automation and engineering.

“Automation and control professionals need to get the word out about the advantages of pursuing a career path in engineering and automation,” Pflantz declares. “We need to work with schools and guidance counselors so that students can better plan for these careers. As working professionals, we can play an important role in helping young people decide what to do, and make better decisions as well as providing mentorship during the initial phases of their careers.”
“It’s an honor for ISA and the Automation Federation to partner with FIRST,” Lindeman emphasizes. “I encourage all of our members to get involved in FIRST on a local level. I guarantee that you will be invigorated by participating and inspired by the enthusiasm and talents of these impressive young people.”

Along with Pflantz, Lindeman and ISA staff members, the following members of ISA’s St. Louis Section attended last week’s event: Nick Erickson, Mike Unterreiner, Keith Thomas and Brian Nixon.

FIRST and the FIRST logo are registered trademarks of the United States Foundation For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). LEGO® is a registered trademark of The LEGO Group.

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