2012 FIRST World Championships 047Last week, tens of thousands of students, mentors, parents and volunteers representing more than 600 teams in four robotics competitions gathered in St. Louis for the 2012 FIRST World Robotics Championships. These events closed out FIRST’s 2011-2012 season in a festival of enthusiasm for science and technology.

Dell was proud to be a part of this year’s program, as FIRST is a recipient of a Powering the Possible grant focused on youth learning.

For 21 years, FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) has provided opportunities for grade school students from all walks of life to learn about technology and how to leverage that technology to solve complex problems. These programs have been steadily growing; close to 300,000 students participated in FIRST programs this year on more than 20,000 Junior FIRST Lego League, FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition teams worldwide.

FIRST’s mission is to inspire the leaders of tomorrow through mentor-based programs that teach students about science, engineering and technology within a competitive, engaging and challenging atmosphere. This mission is at the heart of why we selected FIRST as a youth learning grant recipient, as it aligns with Dell’s focus on empowering youth with important information and communications technology skills. At the same time, participation in FIRST instills in each student a sense of “Gracious Professionalism.” The extent of FIRST’s success can be seen everywhere during the competition — from the pits where teams help their competitors address issues, to matches where ‘coopertition’ can be as important as a winning score, to the stands where the audience roots for accomplishments as much as individual machines.

Dell provided key assistance to three FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams, including The Tough Techs (FRC Team 151 in Nashua, NH). We also supported 11 FIRST Tech Challenge teams in Austin, Nashua and Peoria, and assisted the group managing FIRST’s Oklahoma regional tournament. As important as the financial support is, however, even more valuable is the time and support of mentors and volunteers. During the 2011-12 season, Dell team members volunteered more than 1,000 hours to help these students design, build, program and compete with their machines; we also helped at local and regional events.

As a parent of a FIRST student, a mentor to three different FIRST teams and a Dell employee, I feel privileged to have participated in last week’s event. While pictures can convey some sense of the scale of the festival, they can’t completely communicate the atmosphere of enthusiasm, energy and optimism generated by tens of thousands of students cheering on their peers.

The end of the season is at hand. FIRST has crowned its champions and recognized their key accomplishments. For many of these students, however, this is only the beginning. Many are graduating and are headed to colleges and universities where they will develop the additional skills they need for careers in science, engineering and technology. Dell is honored by the opportunity to play a role in this process and looks forward to seeing the ideas, innovation and solutions developed by our next generation of leaders.

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