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These High Schoolers are Making Robots – and The Future [VIDEO]

“It isn’t the meek who shall inherit the earth, it’s the geek!”

So proclaimed legendary inventor Dean Kamen at the recent FIRST®Championship in St. Louis, where K-12 students compete in robotics competitions. Kamen founded FIRST as a means of inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers and inventors. Qualcomm shares this passion, which is why we enthusiastically support FIRST.

Two of Qualcomm’s biggest tech nerds, Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs and Chief Technology Officer Matt Grob joined Kamen at the championship. They were in good company. President Obama sent a video, inviting the winning teams to the next White House Science Fair, and concluded with the plea, “When those robots take over, I hope they remember all the nice things I said about you guys in this video.”

Grob, speaking afterwards, told the crowd, “When the robots rise, who is going to be able to control them? You are!”

Matt Grob, Qualcomm CTO, addresses the crowd at the 2014 FIRST® Championship in St. Louis last week. [Photo provided courtesy of FIRST.]

Matt Grob, Qualcomm CTO, addresses the crowd at the 2014 FIRST® Championship in St. Louis last week. [Photo provided courtesy of FIRST.]

To better understand what FIRST is all about, we chatted with Alec Kumpf, a senior high school student from Marietta, Georgia who participates in the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®), one of four FIRST programs.

As a child, Kumpf started taking things apart to “study” them. He has carried that inquisitiveness through over six years of FIRST Robotics Competition experience. At this year’s Championship, he was named one of 10 Dean’s List Award winners. The Dean’s List celebrates student leaders who exemplify FIRST ideals. It’s prestigious. And it comes with a lot of bling, including an IFC6410—a Snapdragon 600-based Single Board Computer, and a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon.

Alec Kumpf, a winner of the prestigious Dean’s List Award at the 2014 FIRST® Championship.

Alec started out in the FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL®; grades 4-8) as a 6th grader at Palmer Middle School.

“I used the NXT robots, now they’re on the EV3 robots, and I feel old,” he said.

From FLL, Alec moved up to a FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®; grades 7-12) team during his freshman and sophomore year at Kell High School. In addition, he participated in FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®; grades 9-12), which is billed as the ultimate Sport for the Mind™.

When asked how he got picked for the Dean’s List Award, Alec deflected with all the skill of a pro athlete, preferring instead to talk about his team. During his four years on Team 1311, whose tagline is “We are the people that sit at the cool table,” Alec has helped about 21 teams with “programming, business planning and strategic stuff like that.”

Representing Team 1311 from Kell High School in Marietta, Georgia: Kaitlin Foster, James Bass, and Alec Kumpf.

Why robotics? “I was always the kid who just wanted to figure out how things worked. I took apart a doorknob when I was a kid just to see how it worked. It never worked the same after that, but it was cool,” Kumpf said.

Fast forward through six years of experience in programming, AutoCAD, designing, building, and various team management positions (he’s currently the executive director); it’s no surprise that Kumpf has been accepted at Georgia Institute of Technology, where he plans to study electrical engineering.

As evidenced by the recruiters on hand in St. Louis, FIRST students are in great demand by colleges and by employers. You can count Qualcomm among them.

Check out this blog to meet a former FIRST student who is now “inventing cool stuff” as a Qualcomm engineer in Qualcomm Labs, Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Technologies, Incorporated.

Whether he ends up working at Qualcomm or some other cutting edge tech company, Kumpf is extremely grateful for his FIRST experience.

“I can’t imagine going through high school without it,” he said. “It’s changed my outlook. It’s a life changer.”

Qualcomm was the recipient of the Founder’s Award, presented each year by FIRST founder Dean Kamen to one organization or individual for exceptional service in advancing the ideals and mission of FIRST. Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, Executive Chairman, accepted the award. [Photo provided courtesy of FIRST.]

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