Back to the engineering “Super Bowl”
Some of the in-person events I’m most eager to get back are the local, regional and national FIRST Robotics championships. For three decades, these competitions have encouraged young kids to get excited about robotics and engineering. Founded by masterful inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST aims to reorient our kids’ focus away from things like sports stars and entertainers — and get them excited about technology.
I spoke to Kamen recently, as part of our Future of Design Engineering Series, and he focused on the fact that the only difference between this sport (FIRST) and all the others is that in this sport, every kid can turn pro.
“There are right now, not a few million openings in the NBA or the NFL … but there are a few million opportunities [in engineering] … great careers out there, desperately looking for kids that know how to code, that know how to do analysis, that know how to work in the field of engineering and design,” Kamen said. “So, we give kids the inspiration to realize, ‘I can do this by doing it in a fun environment,’ but then they come through a season and they realize they could make a career out of doing this with bigger kids … to solve real problems.”
Kamen’s philosophy is that if kids enjoy playing a video game, imagine how much fun it would be to design the game itself. That’s a way of thinking that more of us — parents, educators, the media, corporate citizens — need to communicate to kids.
What’s more, FIRST is working with Disney and its Star Wars franchise to get more involved in the program. Why? Because kids are drawn to science fiction, and that’s Kamen’s hook.
“In every generation, people come up with their science fiction, and they’re so enthralled by it, they spend a career turning that great idea into a reality,” he said. “To my grandparents, television was science fiction. When I was a kid, Dick Tracy had a watch he could talk over to. So, that was science fiction. Ten years ago, cloning was science fiction. We’re now manufacturing organs [with] 3D printers. So, if you think science fiction is fun, try the real thing. What’s more fun than science fiction? Making it real!”
FIRST has grown to the point where it has teams in 191 countries and 3,700 corporate sponsors. But until we get the program into every school in this country, including ones in struggling school districts, we won’t solve the skills gap that exists here. Kamen’s own company, DEKA Engineering, employs 800 engineers, and he’s desperate to hire another 100 young engineers, so he sees how real the problem is. Please check out fi rstinspires.org and get your company involved — or donate your time to a local school. The next generation of engineers needs you!
Paul J. Heney – VP, Editorial Director