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London Riots and FIRST Robotics

I watched video footage of the London riots dismayed by images of young people striking out with such violent fear of the future and utter disregard for the property of others.  No one explanation suffices.  One writer, picking up on tweets and social media posts, claimed these teens and young adults are frustrated by unemployment and the reduction of opportunities by the new, austere economic policies of the government.  Another writer, watching interviews of selfish teens brandishing stolen items with glee, points to a distorted welfare mentality of entitlement that is devoid of self sufficiency, pride in one’s work, and what America’s founding father’s called
public virtue.  Another writer, blames the growing emergence of a NEETS, the young adults that live at home or on the streets Not in Education, Employment, or Training. Yet another points to a criminal element, one that emerges in angry crowds when  social morays fall away in bystander effects and diffusions of responsibility. Answers are complex and each dimension requires response. As Londoners respond, do we look differently on our own teens and young adults?

I turned the channel and watched the Science is Rock n Roll special on ABC.  These young people were dancing and singing at the FIRST Robotics Competition confident in exciting futures.  What is it in the faces of these young people that makes me disbelieve they could become an angry mob setting fire to landmarks and stealing from shop owners?

For those of you unfamiliar with FIRST, it uses robotics competitions to engage kids, ages 6 to 18, in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities including resilience, collaboration, and leadership. FIRST includes four different competitions: (Junior FIRST LEGO League (ages 6-9), FIRST LEGO League (ages 9-14), FIRST Tech Challenge (ages 14-18) and FIRST Robotics Competition (ages 14-18)). Each competition provides a team environment where over 250,000 students engage in real problem solving using science and technology and 60,000 mentors. FIRST emphasizes gracious professionalism by combining fierce competition and mutual gain, professional integrity and a spirit of generosity. Students who competed in FIRST, when compared with other students from similar academic backgrounds, are:

  • More than 3 times as likely to major specifically in engineering.
  • Roughly 10 times as likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship, or co-op job in their freshman year.
  • Significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post graduate degree.
  • More than twice as likely to expect to pursue a career in science and technology.
  • Nearly 4 times as likely to expect to pursue a career specifically in  engineering.
  • More than twice as likely to volunteer in their communities.

FIRST includes an ethical humane component.  Dean Kamen, its founder, focuses on inventions that improve living standards and empowering future generations.  Gracious professionalism is actually a judging category and projects must grabble with real world issues that effect people’s lives. Implications must be thought
through.  FIRST also includes an entrepreneurial component, asking teams to engage in fund raising and in proposing their innovations to professionals working in that field.  FIRST involves local business owners and corporate employees volunteering their time as mentors, judges, and coaches.

The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts arrived recently on book shelves. It tells the astonishing story of a team of high school seniors and their remarkable mentor, who “come together to build a machine that will battle in the most heated, sophisticated robotics contest in the world.”  Neal Bascomb, in the epilogue of The New Cool says, “one day Gabe, or another student Amir or FIRST touched, will invent something that will change our lives forever. The world will look back and wonder how it all got started. They will find this story – or one much the same.”

I drove through the neighborhoods of Beaver County and wondered how many of our young people have the chance to experience something like FIRST, something that motivates them to embrace the ‘can do’ atmosphere of innovation, something that offers them a future and a hope. What will shape our young people to reach for the change they want to see in the world through peaceful movements, through education and knowledge and dialog, through innovation and civic pride?

Today’s hero:  Local Beaver County FIRST coaches:  Joanne at Sts. Peter and Paul, Jennifer at Sewickley Academy, and Bernie, Pam, Cat, John, Michael and Jennifer who helped last year’s FLL Cybercats.  In a time when school budgets are being slashed, parents are stepping up to provide this and other exceptional opportunities
that instill the 21st century skill of  innovation (imagination + engineering + entrepreneurship).

Free Resource:  Tuesday, September 13, 7 to 9 pm     FIRST Lego Robotics: Calling All Parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles Community College of Beaver County Learn how to coach or support local teams as they prepare to design, build and compete with robots of their own creation. No background in robotics, engineering, or programming is needed. Come find out more!  Register for free by calling 724-480-3575 (use code RECR38301).

Continue to inspire the hearts and minds of the young people in your life!

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