FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an international robotics program that provides students Pre-K-12 with opportunities to partake in hands-on science and technology experiences. The FIRST Robotics Competition is a program for high school students, and at their competitions, teams can compete to win the Impact Award. According to the FIRST website, this award “is the most prestigious award at FIRST [and] it honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the mission of FIRST.” The product of this award is FIRST Robotics Competition teams having extraordinary impacts on the world and inspiring altruistic values into their students. Many teams showcase various community service, global outreach initiatives, team culture and composition and many other aspects of their organization when competing for this award.
One example is FIRST Robotics Competition team 5422, Stormgears from Massachusetts. They were one of three teams in all of New England to win the Impact Award at the District Championship in 2022. Note that at the time, the award was called the Chairman’s Award. In the essay that was a part of their submission for this award, they outline the many contributions they make to their community and STEM education. For example, Stormgears mentors 18 younger robotics teams, including a team in India and Argentina. Since their team’s inception, they have reported having reached over 12,000 people. They’ve even partnered with a school in Ghana to create an engineering club. What this team does is truly extraordinary, and this is just a small fraction of all of their efforts that contributed to winning the Impact Award.
It is important to remember that what these teams are doing isn’t an intrinsic part of robotics. The technical component of the program focuses on building and programming a robot, and teams can be successful just by doing that. Community service isn’t a robotics oriented thing, rather the program’s culture combines these two facets of life to create a robust program. The program’s most prestigious award, coupled with an incredible culture, has inspired teams to become agents of good in their communities and world.
This leads me to ask the obvious question: Why doesn’t every program do the same thing. Robotics teams operate and compete similarly to sports teams, so why don’t these programs create a similar program that goes beyond teaching students how to be good in a competition and goes further and teaches them how to be good people in general. This isn’t to say that aspects of what FIRST has created aren’t integrated into other programs, just that this model is truly special and should be more widespread. Mechanical Advantage, another FIRST Robotics Competition team that won the 2022 New England District Championship Impact Award, reported doing over 2,500 outreach hours in 2022-2023. Imagine the world if every single team and organization had that level of impact.
In a world with an extraordinary number of issues, we should no longer be content with teaching students skills and giving them knowledge. Our society should put extra emphasis on producing good people who have a drive to change the world for the better. The FIRST Robotics Competition uses the impact award to inspire teams and subsequently students to do good, and that quite simply should be something that everyone can find impressive.