How to Help Students Take the Lead in Their Learning Through Robotics

Aug 15, 2018 By Sherry Comer, Camdenton R-III Afterschool Services Director & Robotics Coach

Sherry Comer is the afterschool services director for Missouri’s sprawling, rural Camdenton R-III School District. She shares her strategies for using hands-on STEM programs to build kids into leaders who take charge of their own learning and gain skills to succeed in any field.

STEM: At the Crossroads of Traditional and Online Learning

Jul 16, 2018 By Donald E. Bossi, president of FIRST

FIRST President Donald E. Bossi explores how online and “blended” learning is ushering a new wave of opportunity for educators, companies and all of us working to advance STEM education to equip students with meaningful tools and resources they need as a foundation for a brighter future.


Featured Image

Display Title

FIRST mentors change students’ lives

Sub Title

D. Scott Heister

Mentor, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 66 “Grizzly Robotics”; Ypsilanti STEMM Middle College Director, Michigan

We used our FIRST robotics team as a model to design our new school because we realized that when our FIRST kids came to us to work on the robot, they were actually engaged. They worked harder in FIRST robotics than they did in school and they actually cared about what they were doing. –Scott Heister, Ypsilanti STEMM Middle College Director

When we incorporated the FIRST values and principles into our new school, we transformed what had been a failing school into a unique vibrant educational opportunity for our students.

The FIRST experience — the hands on, experiential learning in close partnership with mentors — drove learning the basics of engineering and the fundamentals of science and mathematics, engineering, technology and manufacturing – and turned the traditional style of education on its head.

Today, our kids don’t just sit in a classroom doing busy work, but rather, they are connected to a friendly learning environment that encourages them to work with others and to build; and design as engaged members of a team.

By adopting the FIRST principles of guided, hands-on learning, our teachers act more like mentors – always willing to help if a student doesn’t understand. Formerly disenfranchised students are now inspired by those mentors.

The metrics of the impact adapting a FIRST system has had on our school are impressive. Our suspension rate has decreased from over 35% to less than 3% and our graduation rate has increased from 69% to 97%.

Our mentors and teachers use robots. That is our hook. That is how we get our students to be engaged. For all FIRST mentors, if you ever doubted the impact you have, I’d like you to meet some of our Grizzly Robotics kids. 

Meet Grizzly Robotics students and alumni in the video below.

To learn more about how Ypsilanti STEMM Middle College, a dual-enrollment high school, was created on FIRST principles, download the FIRST case study, “A New Type of School Teaches Skills for the Future.”


Featured Image

Display Title

FIRST mentor leads students into brighter futures

Sub Title

Chelsey Roebuck

FIRST Alum, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1218; Mentor, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1660; Co-founder, Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering (ELiTE)

“For many students, myself included, FIRST was a vehicle that helped to create a spark while developing values and traits such as Gracious Professionalism, Coopertition, and grit, and I’m excited to partner with FIRST this year as a STEM Equity Community Innovation Grantee to help spread the vehicle to impact more students. I’m excited to see FIRST continue to impact the lives of so many others, just as it has my own.” –FIRST Alum Chelsey Roebuck

FIRST Alum and mentor Chelsey Roebuck co-founded the nonprofit Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering (ELiTE), a Harlem-based youth development organization that uses STEM education to empower students from underserved communities to realize their academic and career potential. As part of his efforts to create equity and improve access for opportunity youth attending public schools in New York City, Chelsey formed ELiTE’s Harlem Robotics Coalition through a FIRST STEM Equity Community Innovation Grant. The coalition is establishing a multi-site network of school- and community center-based robotics programs within Upper Manhattan’s Community School Districts 4, 5 and 6. Chelsey, who graduated from Columbia University with a mechanical engineering degree before starting ELiTE, is a mechanical mentor for the Harlem Knights, a FIRST Robotics Competition team from Frederick Douglass Academy.

Chelsey received the Evelyn Kamen Rising Star Award for his accomplishments in leveling the playing field in STEM for underrepresented populations at the 2017 FIRST Inspire Gala, where he was honored alongside President Barack Obama. “Chelsey is using the skills and passion he gained as a member of a FIRST team to profoundly impact the lives of young people,” said Donald E. Bossi, president of FIRST. “I’m extremely grateful that our alumni network is brimming with people who are not only well equipped to tackle any challenge; they’re using those hard-earned skills to truly make the world a better place.”

Chelsey has been featured on Forbes 30 Under 30: Education list and in a U.S. News article about FIRST  promoting diversity and inclusion in STEM fields.

Teamwork Makes Machines Work: Young Roboticists Power Up Their Peers at FIRST Robotics Championships

Jun 29, 2018 By Jennifer Deauville, NVIDIA

Nvidia, a FIRST sponsor, highlights young roboticists who are exploring artificial intelligence and virtual reality through FIRST – including FIRST Robotics Competition Dean’s List Award winner Grace Lam, who teaches workshops for other FIRST students on deep learning.

More Than Robots: Inspiring STEM Education and Life Skills via Robotics

Jun 21, 2018 By Donald E. Bossi, President, FIRST

Originally published on eSchool News, FIRST President Donald E. Bossi shares three lessons from FIRST programs and events that can be applied to any classroom to help young people grow a lifelong love of exploration.

FIRST Alumni Make Manufacturing More Accessible with 3-D Printing Startup

Jun 14, 2018 By FIRST Staff

FIRST Alumni Jonathan Schwartz and Max Friefeld co-founded Voodoo Manufacturing, a Brooklyn-based robotics 3-D printing factory, after selling their first company to MakerBot. They shared what inspired Voodoo, advice for entrepreneurs, and what FIRST taught them about engineering, and teamwork.


Featured Image

Display Title

FIRST helped me gain confidence to launch a manufacturing startup

Sub Title

Max Friefeld

FIRST Alum, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 687; Co-founder, Voodoo Manufacturing

My high school, the California Academy of Math and Science, didn’t have a football team; we had robotics teams. In fact, a quarter of the student body was involved in robotics. When I heard about it, I was like, “I need to do this.” I was into tinkering and building things with my hands and interested in math, but I didn’t know what engineering was as a profession until I joined FIRST. My team mentors, who included engineers from local companies like Boeing and Northrop Grumman, really taught me what it meant to be an engineer.

My team, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 687 “The Nerd Herd,” was more focused on community outreach and engineering design excellence than winning; we ran summer camps and other activities to get lots of people involved in FIRST. I learned how to teach complex problem solving, leading younger students through complex and difficult subjects that don’t have obvious answers at the beginning.  It was one of the most enjoyable parts of being on the team.

I also learned a lot about failure. Our mentors were not afraid to watch us lose, probably knowing the entire time what was going to happen. I learned to be ok with that, and to rely on myself and my team to get things done. This had a strong impact on my willingness to go into the startup world because failure is the outcome 90 percent of the time.

My favorite memory is from the year we really wanted to get the Engineering Inspiration Award and make it to the world championships. We were putting together this technical data package about the robot, and like typical high school students, we left it to the last minute. We pulled an all-nighter the night before the competition putting the entire thing together, but at the end we were so proud of this document. It was a remarkable experience of teamwork that I didn’t feel again until starting a company.

Max Friefeld co-founded Voodoo Manufacturing, a robotic 3-D printing factory, with FIRST Alum Jonathan Schwartz. Read more about their experience launching Voodoo on the FIRST Inspire blog.

These Young Innovators are Solving Global Water Challenges

Jun 07, 2018 By FIRST Staff

A travel device that cleans produce. An app that helps families conserve shower water. A kit that tests ocean water quality on-site. These are just a few inventions from the 20 FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award Semi-Finalists, who will be honored in a ceremony June 21 in San Jose, Calif.


Featured Image

Display Title

FIRST gave me a safe place to fail and problem-solve

Sub Title

Alex Kaplan

FIRST Alum & Mentor

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
I completed my undergraduate at Virginia Tech in aerospace engineering. I used my FIRST experience to help with my senior design project: helping to design a robot for the NASA Mining Competition. I also took a class at Virginia Tech where I helped mentor FIRST Robotics Competition Team 401. I am currently working on my graduate degree at Stanford in aerospace engineering.

What are your future plans?
This upcoming summer I will be interning at SpaceX in Los Angeles, and I am hoping to be able to stay with Space X or another private space company.

How has your FIRST experience impacted your post-graduation life?
FIRST gives you a safe place to fail. You can try new things and learn from your mistakes. The only thing that matters is the time when you succeed. The different obstacles my FIRST team overcame has given me a lot of problem-solving experience.

You’ve continued to be involved with FIRST as an Alum; what have you been up to?
After I graduated, I became a mentor on FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1086. In 2016, I helped Team 1086 while my brother was a senior on the team. They were on the winning alliance on Einstein, so it was great to share that experience with him. At Virginia Tech, I took a class where I mentored Team 401. As the years have passed and I am pursuing my degree, I have become a remote mentor for both 1086 and 401. During my spring break I was able to attend both a FIRST Chesapeake District Event and the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship. It was amazing to see 401 and 1086 and work with them in person.

You shared that you’ve made and kept great FIRST friends/established a great network within the FIRST community – any advice to current participants on how to do that?
As a FIRST Alum and a FIRST mentor, it doesn’t matter what team you are from; it matters what you make from the experience. The people who ultimately get the most from FIRST are from teams that have to be scrappy and try hard.  The most important takeaway from FIRST is that you should never be happy with good enough. There is always room for improvement and you have to keep working until you get it right. Work hard and give back to others and you will be successful.