Last week I spent a few days in the shadow of the St. Louis Gateway Arch at the FIRST World Championship, Conference, and Expo. I attended to promote Semester at Sea to the thousands of high school students who are eligible for a Semester and Summer scholarship that we have developed with FIRST over the last few months. ¬†We offer¬†one full semester and one summer scholarship.
What is FIRST?
Well, the acronym means: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.¬† It was founded by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire our youth to love technology and engineering through competition. Over the last several months students around the world¬†have been competing in regional competitions that culminated this last week’s world championships.¬† There are four levels of competition:
1. FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC)
A team of high school students designs,¬†builds, and programs a robot to complete a set of tasks against other teams of competitors.
2. FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC)
Also for high school students, FTC is similar but not quite as “real-world engineering” as FRC.¬† Robots are built using a kit.
3. FIRST LEGO League (FLL)
Students aged 9-14 build LEGO robots, introducing them to engineering challenges
4. Jr. FIRST LEGO League Jr. (FLL)
Students¬†aged 6-9 are introduced to the program and present a motorized LEGO model.
The competition was held in the Edward Jones Dome (where the¬†St. Louis Rams play)¬†and the adjacent America’s¬†center.¬†¬†Teams competed in a playoff format which culminated in the Saturday afternoon championship matches.¬† It was¬†taken quite seriously.¬† There were over 11,000 students plus mentors, coaches, and many parents.¬† 9,000 students alone were in high school.¬† There was a lot of enthusiasm and a level of excitement that surprised me.¬† It was thrilling to be a part of it.
I attended the event representing Semester at Sea on Scholarship Row, which was placed in the middle of America’s Center, and was visited by several hundred students and families. Around me were mostly college recruiters from engineering and technical colleges and universities. I went through 4-5 boxes of brochures, had numerous sign-ups, plus I¬†answered the “what is this” question several hundred times. Students (and parents) were not only interested in engineering, in fact most students seemed to be going into other studies. I believe we gained a lot of exposure from this event.¬† I hope Semester at Sea can become many of these students‚Äô ‚Äúgateway‚Äù towards a life of engaged global citizenry.