The intersection of tech and sport
This may be the most simple way to understand FIRST Washington, which gives more than 10,000 Washington students a way to bring STEM principles to life on tournament floors across the state in the form of robotic competitors.
The premier “FIRST Robotics Competition” is geared toward high-schoolers, but FIRST leagues begin for students as young as six. For teams in the top league, the actual competition day is only part of the equation. Following strict rules to limit resources and time, teams raise funds, design their “brand” and of course build and configure their machines for competition.
Girls Generation is an off-season event that allows only female team members to compete; male colleagues support outside of the ring only. This past year’s event was held Oct. 27 at Maple Valley Middle School, where the gymnasium was converted into a full-on robotics competition arena.
FIRST Robotics competitions are non-destructive: instead of mangling the competition, the robots are pitted against each other in 135-second rounds, earning points for every task they complete. The tasks include picking up balls and launching them into goals, carefully placing a gear onto a lift and using internal winches to make their machines “climb” a strap at the end of the round. The situation in the competition arena becomes even more chaotic with two robots on each team and the potential for opposing teams to interfere, bringing strategy to the forefront.
FIRST Robotics Competition is the culmination of programs — kids can join FIRST Lego League Jr. beginning at the age of 6, progressing to FIRST Lego League at 9, and the FIRST Tech Challenge at 12. The robots become increasingly complex, with the Robotics Competition as the senior program for kids 14-18.
Robotics isn’t just about driving robots. As they build their programs, the teams fundraise and market themselves to sponsors, learn to prioritize features and upgrades, practice teamwork and become mechanics. During competitions, alliances are often formed and strategy is key.
MultiCare’s involvement with FIRST Washington goes back to 2015. Supporting STEM as a partner donor is a natural fit, as many of the children are likely to go on to careers in science and technology that are vital to the health care industry.
Beyond robotics, FIRST Washington serves more than 10,000 students on more than 1,000 teams as the largest STEM program in the state. Students who take part in FIRST programs are 50 percent more likely to go to college and twice as likely to pursue science or engineering degrees.
Story by Mark Swart
Photos by Ingrid Barrentine