In came the parade of creatively dressed teams, 2,500 girls and boys ranging in age from 7 to 18, marching proudly to upbeat pop music into the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Goyang, Korea, smiling, waving to the spectators and excited for the 2015-2016 Korea Robot Championship (KRC) to begin. The older kids were there to showcase their knowledge and skills in building and programming robots and compete for a spot representing Korea in the 2016 FIRST® Championship, to be held in the U.S. in April.
I was honored to speak at the event’s opening ceremony on behalf of Qualcomm, a long-time sponsor and Strategic Partner of FIRST and a first time sponsor of KRC. The Federation for Education of Creative Science & Technology (FEST), Korea’s partner of FIRST, hosts the KRC to inspire students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education. This year’s event brought together several distinct robotics competitions, including the FIRST Tech Challenge for middle and high school students, the FIRST LEGO League for elementary to high school students and the FIRST LEGO League Jr. The team’s robots for the FIRST Tech Challenge competition use a control system powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon-enabled Android phones. I was delighted to see how our support enabled the students to build the most advanced robots that the KRC has seen to date.
As I stepped up to the microphone to congratulate the students on being accepted into this prestigious competition and express Qualcomm’s commitment to expanding STEAM education, I was inspired by the faces before me. These were Korea’s most brilliant young minds, the next generation of inventors, eager to make a mark on the world and their energy was downright infectious. I asked the audience to give a big round of applause for all the students competing and gave a special shout out to recognize all of the girl power in the room. In addition to sponsoring the FIRST Tech Challenge portion of the competition, which enabled the number of teams to more than double from 13 to 29, Qualcomm also sponsored the only all-girls team in the entire championship event. Doing so demonstrated our commitment to increasing the number of girls and women pursuing STEM education and careers. We hosted the team at our Qualcomm Korea office in Seoul and two of our Qualcomm Korea engineers were so inspired by the team’s dedication that they volunteered their time to mentor the all-girls team after hours and on a Sunday which included a two hour drive to their school.
When the robotic challenges were underway, I walked around to the different teams and watched them hard at work. I was very impressed with their passion for robotics; their proficiency in math, science and technology; the caliber of their entries; their commitment to competing at the highest level possible; and how well the team members worked together.
I felt especially proud of the all-girls team which included five 7th- and 8th-graders. The girls named their team “Laonjena” which means “seize the day.” They had a great time creating a robotic rover which they named “La Boong” and sent it racing up a wall during the competition round. Their parents and teachers were so proud of them and captured every moment on their smart phones. Imagine their excitement when they were interviewed and featured as the only all-girls team by KBS, the major broadcasting station in Korea. It was thrilling to see these girls not only controlling a robot they built but also being interviewed by a news camera for the first time in their lives. Confident, knowledgeable and skilled, these girls are leaders and role models, helping pave the way for a more diverse workforce of tomorrow.
These kids are on a path to an exciting, opportunity-rich future. I look forward to seeing how these future technologists and inventors will ultimately use their passion, creativity and STEM education to help make the world a better place.