FIRST® and Strategic Partners Team Up to Introduce Robotics to Underserved Students
By: Shelley Henderson, Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusions for FIRST®
During back-to-back weeks in April nearly 70,000 students traveled to Houston and Detroit to compete in the FIRST® Championship. Students, mentors, parents, volunteers, and thousands of robots from around the world descended upon the two cities.
The FIRST Championship kicked off April 17-20 in Houston, Texas, followed by part two the week of April 24-27 in Detroit, Michigan. This year’s FIRST® Robotics Competition game theme—DESTINATION: DEEP SPACE Presented By The Boeing Company—asked teams to build robots to simulate space travelers who can load cargo to transport it off a planet. The competition is filled with the heart-pounding thrills and team spirit of a professional sporting event. FIRST is the world’s leading youth-serving nonprofit advancing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outcomes.
FIRST is more than robots, it’s a movement and a life-changing STEM engagement experience. The more students we introduce to STEM, the more success we will have expanding the demographics of students engaged in a FIRST experience. FIRST has programs in over 13,000 schools in the U.S. and teams in 113 countries. We focus on ensuring our programs are inclusive and diverse, and reflective of the population of the communities we serve.
Although the FIRST Championship events are a culmination of months of hard work, year-round, we focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion in the field and across FIRST teams among K-12 students.
FIRST’s 10 years of data suggests our participants are up to 3.5 times more likely to major in science or engineering. Additionally, for students who participate in programs like FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST LEGO® League, and FIRST LEGO League Jr., their school engagement increases. On average, 86 percent of students are more interested in doing well in school, 84 to 90 percent plan to take more challenging science or math classes, and 88 to 90 percent are more interested in going to college.
With these types of numbers, we can’t afford to leave out students in underserved communities. In addition to offering equity, diversity, and inclusion training to our staff and field offices, Allies and Influencers, we have partnerships with youth-serving organizations including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Girls Inc., 100 Black Men, and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). We also award STEM Equity Community Innovation Grants that allow us to focus on districts with high-poverty schools to reach more underserved youth. To date, FIRST has awarded nearly $1.7 million for 47 grants across the U.S. and Canada.
Companies like Bechtel have its own challenges with creating diverse teams, and that’s why working as a collective ecosystem is so important in reaching students and building the workforce of the future. Our focus is to expand our reach and partner with sponsors like Bechtel, Apple, Arconic Foundation, Qualcomm Incorporated, Bosch, Caterpillar, Cisco, Cognizant, The Dow Chemical Company, GitHub, John Deere, USA Toyota Foundation, and others keenly focused on introducing K-12 students to STEM fields.
“Whether we’re talking about students or the workforce, we must move past thinking of diversity and inclusion as a program and begin categorizing it as a business imperative,” said Kevin Edwards, global manager of diversity and inclusion at Bechtel. “We are committed to working with organizations like FIRST, NSBE, SHPE, and Society of Women Engineers to increase representations at all levels within our corporation, because the next generation of STEM professionals can’t be ignored. We know that diverse teams perform better than homogenous teams, and that’s true for youth building robots or engineering teams building megaprojects around the globe,” added Edwards.
FIRST is important for all companies that partner with us because we introduce students to robotics, engineering principles, and core values like innovation, inclusion, teamwork, and world impact.
Bechtel supports FIRST programs in Australia, Chile, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The sponsored teams are from communities near the company’s offices and projects, with employees providing thousands of coaching hours to students annually. In addition to volunteerism, Bechtel Group Foundation provided $737,500 to underwrite the nonprofit’s programs worldwide for the 2018-19 season.
Working together with the field, our team, sponsors, and community organizations, we believe FIRST is a valuable conduit to STEM opportunities and careers. Our plan is to engage youth within their communities and work alongside our partners to introduce FIRST to schools, youth-serving organizations, community, and inclusion organizations. Collectively, we can make a difference and encourage more diverse students to select STEM careers.
Check out the links below to see some of Bechtel’s involvement in FIRST.