Supporting Robotics Teams and Future STEM Leaders

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Tomorrow, on April 19, over two thousand robotics teams comprised of well over 20,000 students will converge on the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, and the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Both the FIRST® Robotics Championships and the Vex Robotics Championship  include several days of competition across all grade levels, providing opportunities for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Both FIRST® and the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation (host of the Vex Competition) have missions to inspire our next generation with respect to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And it works.

toy robots with dell logos

Participation estimates for 2016/2017 for FIRST are astonishing—over 450,000 students on over 50,000 teams, over 100,000 mentors and adults in supporting roles, and more than 17 million volunteer hours!

Studies of FIRST® students show they are over twice as likely to major in a science or engineering field in college, with fully one-third of female FIRST® students choosing to major in engineering.

Youth Learning is one of the major focal points of Dell’s Legacy of Good, our commitment to use our technology, expertise and funding where it can do the most good for people and the planet. Programs that support STEM education for K-12 students, like FIRST Robotics and the Vex Robotics Competition, are a natural fit. Dell’s Charitable Giving team’s relationship with FIRST goes back more than five years while heritage EMC’s support of Vex Robotics started even earlier.

The benefits to the students go beyond engineering skills. Studies show STEM programs improve general problem solving and time management skills, increase conflict resolution abilities, and strengthen communication skills.

I mentioned careers, right? Well, we have FIRST alumni in our midst here at Dell—and two from the team I work with at Westlake High School here in Austin. Garrett Witowski and Keren Rempe were both inspired to consider technology careers by their experiences with FIRST Robotics.

first robotics team at competition

After graduating from Texas A&M University last year, Witowski started working in our server engineering organization.

My FIRST robotics experience taught me many valuable skills, such as how to work on a team toward a common goal and not being afraid to ask questions.

“My FIRST robotics experience taught me many valuable skills, such as how to work on a team toward a common goal and not being afraid to ask questions. It also gave me early exposure to topics that weren’t covered until my senior year of college. Working alongside other engineers in my internships and now at Dell is a natural extension of my time with FIRST,” said Witowski, now a platform software engineer at Dell.

Rempe, a graduate of Georgia Tech University, is now working in our global fulfillment organization.

“Building a 100 pound robot for FIRST in under six weeks was the spark I needed to pursue a degree in engineering. I learned technical skills, like how to use a band saw and soft skills, such as presenting to FIRST judges,” said Rempe, now a senior analyst, logistics at Dell.

Rempe adds, while she may not use a saw in her current role at Dell, her FIRST experience has definitely translated into her career. She is also encouraged to see how the FIRST program is motivating more girls to be interested in STEM, a focus area for Dell’s Youth Learning program too.

Witowski and Rempe are the tip of the iceberg. I am certain there are more alumni and supporters in our midst. I suspect there are even more in college today who will be our future team members and leaders tomorrow.

Seeing our participation grow alongside FIRST’s growth has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve been honored to be the Charity Ambassador for Dell’s work with FIRST Robotics since 2011.

If you’re in Houston this weekend, come say “Hello.” I’ve signed up to volunteer as a Robot Inspector on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, I’ll be in the stands, cheering for my favorite teams and being inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of our next generation of leaders.
Share your event photos and experience by tweeting us at @Dell4Good and @FIRSTTweets!

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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