Last weekend I was a judge at the GeorgiaFIRSTRobotics FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship. GeorgiaFIRSTRobotics GeorgiaFIRST is the regional arm of FIRST that engages kids in the creative ‘hands-on, minds-on” process of technological innovation. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) exists to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership. FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams.
It was my first time judging a FIRST event. What a wonderful time seeing youth who were really interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As a judge, I was also able to see the efforts that students from several schools made to increase exposure to and interest in STEM and the FTC program throughout their schools and communities.
The event made me flashback to my Course 2.70 (now 2.007) class at MIT. This was one of my most challenging classes. I had to design, construct, and compete a robot using a box of parts given to me at the start of the semester. Since I was not blessed with my maternal grandfather Roland’s ability to work with tools, it was quite a feat to machine parts for my robot. The other challenge was coming up with a winning design. I have a tendency to get lost in my head when I brainstorm by myself. Unlike the FTC students who operate on a team, I was tasked with doing everything on my own. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight at the time to bounce my ideas off of upperclass students. The end result — my robot worked in its first match up but lost which kept me from advancing. I was elated that I designed and built a working robot. To my surprise, my picture ended up in the school paper, MIT Tech, although I did not advance in the contest. This was a fulfilling experience for me because I overcame my fears and met my personal goal – build a working robot.