Why Every Community Needs Youth Robotics Teams

Two Viral News Stories About FIRST Teams Inspire Us All

Apr 08, 2019 By Donald E. Bossi, FIRST President




Students from FIRST Robotics Competition team “The Afghan Dreamers” prepare with their mentor before a match at the 2018 FIRST Championship in Detroit.

Students from FIRST® Robotics Competition team “The Afghan Dreamers” prepare with their mentor before a match at the 2018 FIRST® Championship in Detroit.

Editor’s Note: This article was also published on LinkedIn.

As National Robotics Week kicks off, the FIRST community has a lot to celebrate around raising awareness for the excitement and possibilities of robotics and STEM. Last week, The New York Times published Danna Harman’s deeply reported feature article on the journey and impact of Afghanistan’s all-female robotics team. The success of the team has been inspiring and rewarding for all who have helped them on their journey.

A few days later, Minneapolis NBC affiliate Kare 11 aired an inspiring segment about FIRST Robotics Competition team Rogue Robotics building a power wheelchair for Cillian Jackson, a two-year-old boy who was born with a genetic condition that makes mobility difficult. The story went viral, getting picked up by NBC Nightly News, CBS News, the New York Times, and more.

Both stories illustrate why the opportunity to be on a robotics team is one all young people around the world deserve to have access to. Youth robotics teams should be as globally ubiquitous as soccer teams.

Participating on a robotics team doesn’t just benefit the kids who will go on to work in engineering, mechanical, or computer science fields. By building critical work-life skills like creative problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, FIRST robotics programs prepare every student for the future—one where each of us must have the skills to adapt quickly to changing technology and environments, to collaborate across cultural and geographical borders, and to drive innovations that will make the world a better place.

As the article on the Afghan robotics team makes clear, the remarkable young women had their eyes opened to the world of possibility, formerly beyond their reach. The team participated in the FIRST Global Challenge and in the FIRST Robotics Competition season through the generous hospitality of FIRST Canada leaders and teams and support from many others. In the FIRST community’s deep culture of collaboration, inclusion, and innovation, they thrived. They are now empowered to return home as leaders and problem solvers who will make positives changes in their communities, and their impact will reverberate for generations. Though their circumstances are extraordinary, their transformation is one many robotics participants have experienced first-hand.

The students of Rogue Robotics seized an opportunity to use the technical, problem solving, and community engagement skills they’re learning through FIRST to bring joy and accessibility to a local family. Even better, several of our robotics teams are involved in building adaptable Go Baby Go ride-on cars for kids in their communities, and the attention Rogue Robotics received this week is sure to inspire more.

To help the next generation build the abilities, leadership skills, and passion for changing the world we see in these two stories, educators, companies, and community and government leaders need to collaborate to connect young people to life-changing experiences and life-long learning opportunities that inspire them.

One such collaboration is kicking off this week: FIRST Strategic Partners Qualcomm and Bosch teamed up ‏to surprise fund all live classroom projects for FIRST materials posted April 8 on, a crowd-funding platform for U.S. public school teachers. They will also be triple matching donations to new FIRST projects on the platform until campaign funds are spent – giving more students access to hands-on STEM education.

Those are the types of collaborations and opportunities FIRST has been creating for 30 years. Our mission is to make the hands-on learning and community-building opportunities of robotics available to every kid, everywhere around the globe. There are currently FIRST robotics teams in 100+ countries, but we can’t rest until there is opportunity in every country for students to learn, challenge the status quo, and realize their full potential.

Follow Don Bossi on LinkedIn and Twitter for more on workforce development, STEM education, innovation, and more.

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