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FIRST creates workforce of tomorrow

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Students in the Rochester region – and beyond – will show off their science, math and technical skills at this week’s Finger Lakes FIRST Robotics Competition Regional at RIT.

The event will be held March 14-16 at the RIT Gordon Field House. It is free and open to the public.

FIRST is For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST Regional Director Glen Pearson discussed the competition, how it benefits the students, and the long term impact of the program on our community Wednesday during our Why ROC conversation.

“This is our big event for the year and we have 48 teams coming in, 31 from this area in New York State,” said Pearson. “We have teams coming in – as well – from Long Island. We have teams coming in from Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, a couple of teams from China, a team from Canada and a team from Mexico, to give a little international flair.”

The international presence reflects the popularity and reputation of the annual Robotics Competition. “FIRST is actually in 33 countries around the world,” Pearson noted. “Most people think of it as a U.S. type of event. We attract a lot of the best teams to come to play in our event because we do have a very well run event, and we have a lot of strong teams locally, and those teams create relationships with teams around the world, and basically invite them to come here and play.”

Pearson said, beyond the cameraderie, the students gain practical training and life skills. “The great thing about FIRST is it is a competition and it’s all about robotics because the students have to build a robot in six weeks to compete, but the more important things is they learn to love science and technology and math and they see what it does. They see how they use it, so the things they learn in school they can put to work. They also learn how to use tools – machine tools, hand tools – maybe things they’ve never had a chance to do before. Besides that, they learn some very important Twenty-first Century learning skills, which are probably as important, if not more important than the science and technology they get. And they learn how to communicate, particularly to adults, because they’re judged by adults. They learn how to work as a team. They learn leadership skills and they how to problem solve and get their problems done within a very constricted time period.”

Equipped with these skills, Pearson said the students will help create the workforce of tomorrow, and that’s a perfect reason for high tech companies to jump on board in support of FIRST. “The important thing for our community is that these students are going to be the workforce of the future,” he said. “FIRST programs start at Kindergarten and they move through high school. The program we’ve been talking about is the program that’s in high school. It’s ninth to twelfth grade. We know we have to get students interested by the time they’re third or fourth graders or we basically don’t capture their interest, they don’t take the right subjects and they don’t learn the things they should be able to learn to be productive citizens in the future. But these students will be our workforce, and we need to have companies involved with us to help those students along the path so they can nurture them into understanding what they can do with technology, how they can use it. And whether they wind up doing something with robotics, programming, coding, manufacturing no matter where they go, they’ll be better for it.”

To learn more about FIRST and this week’s Finger Lakes FIRST Robotics Competition Regional at RIT, visit

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