OnQ Blog

Building our future better together

Collaborating with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to inspire the next generation of inventors.

FIRST Robotics Competition robots battling it out at FIRST Championship in Detroit.

It’s no secret that both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills and soft skills are needed for almost everyone looking to compete in the global workforce, and those who don’t develop these skills run the risk of being left behind. As a global technology company committed to unlocking 5G and unleashing an era of rapid technological innovation — what we call the Invention Age — Qualcomm is laying the groundwork to further STEM education among young people around the world.

Our company supports FIRST, whose global scale and reach provide foundational STEM and soft skills to over 615,000 students in more than 100 countries every year. One of the many reasons Qualcomm invests in FIRST is because we know it works: According to a recent longitudinal study by Brandeis University, FIRST participants are twice as likely to show an increased interest in STEM, and over 75 percent of FIRST alumni are in a STEM field as a student or professional. This momentum is crucial to bringing about the transformational potential of the Invention Age across industries, continents, and economies.

FIRST Championship is “the big game” for robotics

When learning about the impact of FIRST, let’s start at the top. Every spring, more than 70,000 students and attendees from across the globe travel to Houston and Detroit for week-long robotics competitions known as the FIRST Championship — it’s truly “the big game” for robotics. And each year this event gets bigger and bigger.

Thousands of FIRST participants at the closing ceremonies at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

If you’ve ever attended one of these events, you know the scale and impact this program has. You’ll never forget the sheer number of excited students whom are truly passionate and excited about robotics and STEM. They’re everywhere — from the convention centers and stadium-sized competition areas to the local hotels and restaurants. It’s been estimated that this annual event brings in around $30 million in economic impact to its host cities every year. Not too shabby for a K-12 robotics program.

Many different stories, many common threads

To use FIRST co-founder Dean Kamen’s own words, “It’s so much more than robots.” While the scale, the robots, and the economic impact of these events are quite impressive, what’s most inspiring — and always leaves a lasting impression — are the students themselves.

Every FIRST team and student has a story. It’s inspiring to hear how much this program and Qualcomm’s support have changed their lives. For instance, there’s a FIRST Robotics Competition team from North Carolina whose students come from a rural town where access to STEM programs is extremely limited. Most of them had never traveled away from home. One of the young women on the team told us she never thought that she’d be interested in something like robotics, but now that she’s participated, it’s given her confidence that she didn’t know she had to pursue STEM.

There’s also the robotics team from Tijuana, Baja California, that as of last year didn’t exist, but thanks to our support, was able to compete this year as a rookie team and advance to the FIRST Championship in Houston. For many on the team, this program was their first experience with engineering and it’s made them realize that it's a career they can pursue. One of the students works in a maquiladora assembling electronics. For him, participating in this program was astoundingly powerful.

FIRST Robotics Competition students cheering on their team at the San Diego FIRST Robotics Competition regional presented by Qualcomm.

There are so many more stories from teams all over the world. And while they may not all be the same, they all share a few things in common. This highlights our company’s belief that the FIRST program works to build the momentum needed for the next generation of inventors.

  • Students and volunteers share a genuine enthusiasm for the program. You won’t find a student or volunteer at FIRST Championship who isn’t super pumped up to be there. Almost all of them can point to one or several experiences that they’ve had through this program that’s changed their lives for the better.
  • Students can articulate their contribution. As you walk around engaging with teams and talking with students, you realize that they can clearly explain their robot, their role on the team, and the many challenges they faced during the season. In addition to STEM skills, FIRST participants also learn critical soft skills, such as presentation skills, teamwork, and communication.
  • Students are helping each other out. Yes, teams want to win and do well in the competition, but it’s clear that it’s not the most important thing. Teams are helping other teams with tasks like securing and building parts, technical issues, and more.
  • Participants are truly grateful for the program. If you ever attend a FIRST event, you will be amazed by all the “thank yous” you’ll hear from students, teachers, and mentors. It’s as if being there allows them the opportunity to be a part of something bigger and to experience this global community of like-minded people who all share a passion for this program.

These themes are all consistent with what FIRST has coined as their philosophies and core values. Things like “coopertition” and “gracious professionalism” are embedded into the ethos of all FIRST teams. It’s no surprise to see it all in action at the FIRST Championship. Now, can you imagine what your child’s school might look like or what your workplace might look like if we all adopted these values? Tech analyst Carolina Millanesi recently wrote about this after her recent FIRST Championship experience in her new blog called, “The Heart of Tech.” Make sure to check it out.

FIRST organizers and educators should keep their eyes on the future these young inventors will have a hand in building for all of us. The 2020 competition theme, FIRST® RISESM powered by Star Wars: Force for Change, is evidence of this future, and focuses on working together to elevate new ideas and foster growth. I can only imagine what types of opportunities lay ahead for next year’s participants as they look to build and create robots that will tackle some of the biggest challenges.

We are extremely proud of the work we are doing to build and inspire this next generation of inventors through programs like FIRST. With technology progressing as fast as it is and our world facing some of the most complex challenges of our time, it’s inspiring to know that these students and this program are there to help guide us and lead the way.

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