Volunteers represent the impact of FIRST Robotics 

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FIRST is an international robotics organization that provides students pre-K through Grade 12 with a hands-on STEM experience. FIRST robotics programs are popular in Connecticut and throughout New England. 

This past Sunday, FIRST Lego League Challenge (FLL) — a program for students Grades 4-8 — had its first Connecticut competition of the season in New Haven. What I found truly incredible was not just the amount that students that age were able to accomplish, but that the organization of the competition itself. It’s a true testament to FIRST’s ability to inspire people to give back to their communities. 

FIRST Robotics is built by volunteers who run competitions at every level with incredible dedication; this base of volunteers is emblematic of the true value of FIRST. Three main groups in particular highlight the impact that FIRST has on people: High school robotics teams, adult volunteers and alumni. 

To start, events such as the FIRST Lego League Challenge Competition show the impact that the high school FIRST program, FIRST Robotics Competition, (FRC) has on students. Despite being its own program separate from FLL, the high school teams largely support many of the competitions that these students compete in. In particular, the FLL Challenge Qualifier in New Haven was run by the Elm City Robo Squad, New Haven’s high school robotics team. 

Of the competitions being held this coming weekend, at least two of them — those held in Tolland and Wolcott — are run by local high school robotics teams. Even when a team does not run its own competition, many high school members will still volunteer. This past Sunday, at least five high school robotics teams were represented through students, alumni or mentor volunteers. This shows that FIRST doesn’t just build skills in students; it also teaches the value of giving back. High school students, team mentors and alumni are all integral in making these events possible because of the values that are a significant component of the FIRST programs. 

The second group of volunteers who are a testament to the impact of FIRST is the adult volunteers. Many adults who work with FIRST are professionals in their field and utilize much of their free time to give back to the next generation of scientists and engineers. But what I find incredible is the fact that the same people who spend countless hours each week mentoring high school robotics teams give up even more of their time to volunteer at elementary and middle school programs. This goes to show how much they value and appreciate what FIRST provides to students of all age levels. 

Finally, what I find to be the most incredible group of volunteers is the alumni of the program who still go back to volunteer. This truly shows the impact that the FIRST programs have on students. They are not only inspired to volunteer while a part of the program, but for many, including myself, it becomes such an instrumental part of their lives that these people continue to help out with the programs even after graduation. They recognize the amazing skills and experiences given to them by the program and choose to give back. Clearly, students not only leave the FIRST Robotics program with skills but also with the capacity to do good in the world. 

What these groups of volunteers ultimately represent is the true success of FIRST Robotics. Its high school program serves to instill positive values in its students, inspiring them to volunteer at competitions for younger students. The mentors of these very same programs continue to volunteer their time at multiple levels of FIRST because they see the true impact all of these programs have on students. Finally, alumni of these programs continue to go back to volunteer at these events, because they value the experience FIRST gave them, and the values instilled have stayed with them and inspired them to help the next generation. FIRST Robotics has clearly become such an impactful program, and that can be seen in all of the dedicated volunteers that make these programs possible.

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