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FIRST enabled my pursuit of medical research

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Sarah Rudasill


FIRST Alum Sarah Rudasill, from FIRST Robotics Competition Team 4266, the New Oxford GhostBotics, from New Oxford, Pennsylvania, received the Bart Kamen Memorial FIRST Scholarship. Participating in FIRST inspired Sarah toward research in the translational sciences, and her FIRST Scholarship has provided financial freedom and mentorship as she pursues an academic surgical career.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
After I graduated high school, I attended Wake Forest University. I graduated in 2017 with a degree in Economics and now I’m at UCLA for medical school.

What are your future plans?
I intend to pursue an academic surgical career, where I will balance patient care, clinical research, and teaching responsibilities. I’m so excited to study medicine, see patients in our volunteer clinic, and conduct clinical research.

How has your FIRST experience impact your post-graduation life?
FIRST demonstrated how abstract scientific principles could be applied to practical problems, which inspired me to pursue research in the translational sciences. Medicine is a fantastic avenue for translating scientific discoveries into tangible improvements in healthcare. Being the recipient of the Dr. Bart Kamen Memorial FIRST Scholarship gave me the financial freedom to pursue research projects of interest, and I am fortunate to have met many great researchers and physicians who have shaped my career trajectory.

You shared that you’ve made and kept great FIRST friends – any advice to current Participants on how to do that?
I was a fortunate recipient in the first class of Bart Kamen Scholars, so I’ve kept in touch with other scholars and subsequent classes. I look forward to mentoring future generations of Bart Kamen Scholars through the long medical training process.

What is your favorite FIRST memory?
I helped to found a brand-new team, and our first competition in Baltimore will always be a fond memory. We didn’t come close to winning, but it was a thrill to be surrounded by so many passionate and brilliant future scientists.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?
When starting any new endeavor, your attitude and effort will determine the outcome. 

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FIRST Impact Jul. 23 2018| 0 KB

Content Type:

FIRST works closely with research and academic organizations to provide tangible evidence of our impact on students’ education and career choices.

View the interactive FIRST Longitudinal Study Infographic or download the PDF - Released December 2017

See also FIRST Impact web page.

FIRST Impact Infographic - Released January 2017

FIRST STEM Equity Community Innovation Grant

FIRST Longitudinal Study 



FIRST Tech Challenge

FIRST Robotics Competition

FIRST Alumni

Sources for the FIRST Impact Infographic:


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FIRST inspires my child to build, code, and create

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Christina Blais

Parent, FIRST LEGO League, Winsted, Connecticut

When I heard about the FIRST LEGO League program, I knew it would be a great idea for my son to join. I was excited about the new ideas my son would learn about engineering, teamwork, and good values. We were brand new to the program and weren't sure what to expect. His mentor, Justin Ivey (a FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA member), has been a good inspiration and has encouraged the team to bring out ideas they never thought they had.

My son enjoys building and programming the robots and creating a project from ground up with the help of his team members and encouragement from their mentor. He comes home excited to tell us about the new things he learned, whether it’s about coding the robot to complete a mission in the game, or a new fact about the water cycle for the team’s project. I’m glad that he joined FIRST LEGO League and to see the excitement it brought to my son. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store. 


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FIRST inspires community heroes

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Terri Willingham

FIRST Volunteer, Coach, Mentor, Florida; Former FIRST Regional Director

“In today’s world, the advances in STEM are booming, creating opportunities for today’s youth like never before. Terri Willingham will tell you these are only tools. If children aren’t educated in these fields, the advances mean nothing. So for the last 12 years, Terri has been volunteering to fully engage students of all ages with the STEM fields, introducing them to robotics, coding programs, digital asset development, and more. To date, her STEM efforts have positively impacted tens of thousands of young people across Florida. She’s worked tirelessly to inspire the next generation of leaders, builders, and dreamers to build better communities for tomorrow. And that’s why you, Terri, are our hero.” – Braydon Coburn, Tampa Bay Lightning

During the 2017-2018 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored Terri Willingham as a Lightning Community Hero. Willingham was recognized for her work providing guidance to schools and communities in the development of FIRST programs, as well as her work developing the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation’s Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center (AMRoC). Seeded by an Argosy Foundation grant, the center will be a FIRST hub for Central Florida and provide a training and talent pipeline for STEM careers in the area, giving youth a clear pathway to a high-paying future and adults an opportunity to improve their own earning potential.

Willingham, who received $50,000 from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, donated $35,000 of the award to the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI) for the ROBOTICON FIRST showcase and off-season event, as well as AMRoC. She donated the balance to other area nonprofits, most of whom partner with FCDI in the development and organization of local FIRST related programs and events, including St. Petersburg College Foundation, Tampa Bay Robotics Foundation, Metropolitan Ministries for their FIRST Tech Challenge team “Coding Hope,” and Central Florida Robotics via Polk State College Foundation.

“While I am deeply honored for the recognition, no one can be a community hero in a vacuum,” says Willingham. “The organizations I shared the award grant with are the real ‘community heroes’ – the people who believe in the long-term power of mentor-driven, character-based STEM education like FIRST offers. They see the big picture: how meaningful adult engagement that helps youth learn and succeed today makes a brighter future possible for all of us tomorrow. None of the great projects and programs I've been part of would be possible without the amazing community army of which I’m so grateful to be a part.”

Why You Should Consider Supporting STEM Education This Holiday Season

Dec 19, 2017 By Mark Giordono, Vice President of Development, FIRST


With STEM jobs on the rise, it’s an incredible time to be a curious child. However, all kids need equitable access to STEM engagement opportunities and relevant mentorship to build a foundation for a bright future. Supporting STEM education helps kids find their passion and reach their goals.


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FIRST inspires engineers

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Nicki Bonczyk

FIRST Alum, Volunteer, Mentor, and Coach

FIRST Alum Nicki Bonczyk fell in love with engineering after joining FIRST Robotics Competition team 107, R.O.B.O.T.I.C.S., from Holland, Michigan. After high school, she studied product design and manufacturing engineering and interned for JR Automation, eventually landing a full-time job there as a mechanical engineer – her dream job. “Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day,” Nicki says. “Can you think of a better job?”

How did you get involved with FIRST?
I was born and raised in Holland, Michigan, and I used to dream of becoming an architect. My dad, Bob Bonczyk, has been involved with FIRST for more than 20 years now, so it’s always been around my life. My mom, Michelle Bonczyk, a 14-year mentor, used to take me to FIRST events when I was little and I would see just how fun robotics was.  Naturally, when I got to high school, I joined Team 107 and fell in love with engineering and the idea of being an engineer.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
After high school, I went to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) for Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering. I had developed a passion for mechanical engineering while on the team in high school, and GVSU was a great fit. Being that GVSU hosted a FIRST event (now the West Michigan District Event), I had a chance to see the university and its passion for FIRST.  GVSU has a great Co-op program, and I got work experience before I graduated through my internship at JR Automation.

After graduation, I continued to work at JR Automation and shifted from an intern to a full-time mechanical engineer, which is really a dream job! Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day – can you think of a better job?

You’ve continued to be involved with FIRST as an Alum; what have you been up to?
I’ve stayed really involved with FIRST since becoming an alum. I help coach a FIRST Tech Challenge team with my mom and a few other FIRST Alumni and help Team 107 with CAD, as well as work with my employer to provide a full-sized practice field for the area teams to use. I’m also a head referee and volunteer coordinator for Michigan events.

How do you balance FIRST volunteering with school and work?
When I was still a student at GVSU, I made a point to put school and completing my engineering degree first.  So, I decided to volunteer at events while I was completing my degree. Depending on the semester, I could do two to six events a year.

Now that I am working full time, my schedule is a little more predictable.  I have been able to start up a FIRST Tech Challenge team and work with the local middle school students a few nights a week.  I can give my parents a hand when they need it.  I got lucky by finding a company to work for that really supports FIRST.  With so many events being held in Michigan, there are many opportunities for myself and my coworkers to volunteers.  It has been great to get more coworkers involved at the events as volunteers.

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It's Important to Support STEM All Year Round

Dec 06, 2017 By Jay Flores, Global STEM Ambassador, Rockwell Automation

It’s important to keep students challenged, especially during breaks from school. Equally as important is the atmosphere. Rule one: have fun. Jay Flores, global STEM ambassador for Rockwell Automation, explores interesting ways to keep kids involved in learning, even when school’s out. 


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FIRST connects students with valuable mentors

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Mashroor Rashid


FIRST Alum Mashroor Rashid is a 2015 Dean’s List Award Winner from FIRST Tech Challenge Team 2408, Shrapnel Sergeants, in Hazelwood, Missouri. He is grateful for the variety of mentors he’s gained through FIRST and plans to pay it forward to future generations.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum?
Currently, I attend the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where I received a FIRST Scholarship, and study Computer Engineering

You’ve had mentors, or mentored others, through FIRST; what advice do you have to share with others?
I have been mentored by wonderful parents, teachers, and engineers. Each mentor brings different skills and trait to the table, and are able to pass their knowledge on with ease. I'm incredibly thankful for what they've taught me, as I can pass their teachings on to the next generation of FIRSTers.

What is the best piece of advice the you’ve received?
"When opportunity comes your way, grab it and run with it, as far as you can." and, "What you put in is what you get out." My coach told me these words after the 2015 FIRST Championship, in regard to college applications, robotics, and schoolwork. He would push us to work as hard as possible, because he knew that the team had potential to do well.

What is your favorite FIRST memory?
Winning the St. Louis Regional in 2013. I can remember talking to my teammates during the build season and saying, "Man, I just don't see us walking out of there." After alliance selections, we just kept winning matches, eventually coming to the finals. Being able to attend Championship as a freshman really opened my eyes up to how important teamwork and Gracious Professionalism is.

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Investing in A Culture of Gratitude

Nov 22, 2017 By Mark Giordono, Vice President of Development, FIRST

This time of year, many of us pause to give thanks. At FIRST, we’re grateful to our tireless mentors, coaches, volunteers, alumni, sponsors, fundraisers and donors who support our mission wholeheartedly. They deserve to hear our thanks not just now, or at the end of the season, but all year round.

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