26 September 2011

FIRST: "Science is accessible for me."

If you're a fan of the science blogosphere as I am, you've probably heard about FIRST, a not-for-profit founded by inventor Dean Kamen that inspires young people to get involved with science, technology, engineering and mathematics through participation in robotics competitions.  I first learned about FIRST when I read Sheril Kirshenbaum's interview with Dean Kamen.  There was also an ABC television special about FIRST featuring will.i.am, front man for the Black Eyed Peas. (will.i.am is popular in my house, albeit for a somewhat different reason.)

More than 21,000 high-school-age kids are participating in FIRST this year.  Kids join teams in their hometowns and those teams build working robots that are designed to carry out specific tasks the FIRST leadership develops. The teams score points based on how well the robots meet their tasks, and winning teams get all sorts of perks, such as visiting the White House.

The good folks at FIRST gave me the opportunity to talk with one of those teams who went to DC last year - First Tech Challenge team #3489, a group of four smart, ambitious and engaging students from Coatesville PA and who call themselves "Minds In Gear."  While I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the team about what they were learning, it quickly occurred to me that these young leaders are teaching us all a few things as well. This interview with the team is well worth the 16 minutes and 15 seconds you'll spend listening to it.

I was immediately struck by two things in this interview. First, Sasha Wall discussed the complementary nature FIRST has with her classes:
I use a lot of the leadership skills that I gained in first tech challenge and I apply them in in my classes when we’re doing projects… and I’m able to take my math skills and apply them to building a robot.
Second, as I noted that the team had three young women and one young man, Alex McCabe took a question I asked about female role models in science and just knocked it out of the park.
Establishing female role models in science is so important because you turn on the TV and you see a few poor role models, and if you just pay attention to the media you don’t really get the idea “oh, science is so wonderful, science is ACCESSIBLE for me, and I think that’s really important.
I could try to elaborate on this, but it seems to me Sasha and Alex do quite well speaking for themselves. After the interview the team gave me a live video demonstration of their robot from last year - and I'll just put the rest of the FIRST teams on notice - Minds In Gear will be tough to beat. They invited me to chat with them again once this year's competition is over. I'm already looking forward to it.

1 comment:

mommacommaphd said...

FIRST prompted me to think about to my teen years and what experiences led me to a science career.

While FIRST wasn't around then, other programs I participated in did the same thing for me that FIRST is doing for Minds In Gear- let me realize that science was accessible, people were actually out there doing science, and I could be a scientist too.

http://mommacommaphd.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/how-to-turn-a-girl-into-a-scientist/