Guiding the Next Generation of Engineers

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This week and weekend (July 28-30) are a big deal for me, for my family, for hundreds of schools and potentially thousands or tens of thousands of students throughout the state of Texas.

Back in 2007, a friend asked if I knew of a robotics club for our kids, then in the fifth grade. I said “No, but I’ve heard of this LEGO thing.” So, we created a FIRST® LEGO League (FLL) team, including our kids, Nick and Jeff, and a few of their friends.

As they progressed through middle school and high school, Nick and Jeff moved from FLL to a competition called the FIRST Tech Challenge, and then to the ‘varsity’ game level: the FIRST Robotics Competition—staying within the FIRST community during the rest of their grade school years.

 “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” a.k.a. FIRST®, is an international youth organization that operates four robotics competitions supporting students from Kindergarten through high school. Founded by Dean Kamen in 1992, FIRST’s vision is a culture where science and technology are celebrated, where our children look to inventors and scientists as role models. By wrapping science and technology in a sports metaphor, FIRST is shaping the next generation of creators and builders. I have seen, first-hand, 15,000 students cheering design and accomplishment the way their peers cheer for touchdowns.

FIRST has continued to grow since we began our involvement. Now in its 25th year, it has worldwide reach, connecting with hundreds of thousands of K-12 students through FIRST competitions every year. Despite its success, there is much left to do. Visibility, access to mentors and teachers, and funding are big challenges—particularly for underserved communities.

For Dell, connecting today’s youth with technology to create a more powerful tomorrow is a key aspect of our approach to giving. Our Youth Learning partners provide students across the globe with access to technology. A growing number of youth organizations we work with are focused on sparking a passion for STEM and digital literacy.

These are not luxuries; they’re necessities. Last year, Dell worked with 62 youth learning partners in 15 countries. We’ve built a fantastic program with significant global reach—our initiatives engaged more than 1.6 million underserved young people last year.

And while our work with organizations that promote youth robotics is just a small piece of this, it’s a piece that hits home for me.

This weekend, Texas’ UIL (University Interscholastic League) hosts its first official state robotics championship at the Austin Convention Center. Yes, as of last December, robotics has been sanctioned by UIL as an official school activity! Granting these programs official status unlocks doors for all of Texas’ students, from the Rio Grande Valley to the Texas Panhandle, from El Paso to the Louisiana border.

Texas is only the third state to grant this status to high school robotics. The UIL knows that engaging students early in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is one of the most effective ways to set them on a long-term path to success. It creates opportunities for real-life problem solving. Participation in UIL contests—whether athletic, academic or artistic—encourages our students to expand their horizons. It teaches teamwork and builds leaders.

This past year, Dell supported more than 120 teams across FIRST’s four competitions, comprised of students from high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools across the country. While only a few have made it to the pinnacle of the Texas UIL State Championship this weekend, we are proud of all of them. FIRST students know it’s not just about the result, it’s also about the journey.

I’ll be at the UIL Robotics State Championship this weekend. If you’re in Austin, join me.

This event is free and open to the public. Event information is available here.

Watching one of these competitions provides a view into this movement not describable through text. It’s inspiring and heartwarming to know that this is the generation into whose hands we are placing our planet.

Oh, Nick and Jeff? They’re now both rising juniors at great colleges—both pursuing careers inspired by, and building on, their science, technology, engineering and math experiences.

Dell is committed to using technology to improve the lives of young people, as part of our 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. To learn about the ways Dell’s Legacy of Good goals are paying off for customers, communities and the planet, visit

John Pflueger, Ph.D.

About the Author: John Pflueger

John Pflueger, Ph.D., is Dell Technology’s Principal Environmental Strategist. In this role, John is responsible for driving Dell's corporate strategies on issues around environmental sustainability – including energy, GHG emissions, sustainable materials, water and how Dell’s technology is applied to environmental issues for the health of our planet, people and communities. John received his B.A., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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