Robotics: The only high school sport where every kid can go pro

Jan 13, 2016 by Ray Almgren, Chairman, FIRST in Texas and Vice President, National Instruments

Recently, Texas joined a growing list of states that have launched initiatives to make robotics a full-fledged sport, accessible to all students. In the following article, Ray Almgren, Chairman, FIRST in Texas and Vice President, National Instruments shares why school-based programs like this are so important to the future workforce of the United States. 

Robotics is the sport for the 21st century.

The skills students can learn, including teamwork, collaboration and problem solving, are the same as those learned in other sports. But unlike most sports, robotics provides all students – no matter their background or physical ability – the opportunity to become a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professional.

This past November, Texas formalized student robotics as an extracurricular activity through its state activities association, the University Interscholastic League (UIL). FIRST in Texas, in partnership with the UIL, will launch a robotics pilot program this school year that will make robotics a full-fledged sport, accessible to students throughout the state. We are proud to join Connecticut and Minnesota in leading the way in this effort.

Under this new initiative, robotics teams in Texas will have the opportunity to play at the same level as traditional sports teams. Our state’s recognition of robotics means millions of students from thousands of high schools and middle schools will now have wider access to robotics and an opportunity to learn STEM skills in a hands-on way. Furthermore, robotics teams in Texas schools will receive similar support of other such activities including: extracurricular program structures; the active support of school executives, teachers and community leaders; and the opportunity to apply for varsity sport letters for high performance.

This is a turning point for the widespread accessibility and adoption of student robotics programs across the state and nationwide – and a very important one. To help illustrate, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), of the eight million students who participate in high school athletics in the United States, less than 6 percent will compete at a collegiate level, and of that group, only a fraction will realize their goals of becoming professional athletes. In comparison, FIRST participants are two times as likely to major in science or engineering, and 89.6 percent of FIRST Alumni are currently in a STEM field as a student or a professional.

These efforts come at a critical time, and should be emulated by more states across the United States, as nationally, STEM occupations are growing 1.7 times faster than non-STEM careers – according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

To ensure a viable workforce, we need to be willing to really change the culture of education – here in Texas and throughout the United States. This pilot program is a giant step in the right direction. I urge you to learn more about how to implement similar strides in your state by using Texas, Connecticut and Minnesota as examples. For more information, visit


Ray Almgren is a Vice President at National Instruments, Chairman of FIRST in Texas, and a member of the FIRST Executive Advisory Board.

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