25 Years of Training Young Innovators

Your Next Hires? FIRST Inspires Young People to Invent and Innovate in Team Co-Opetition

April 10, 2014

FIRST, an acronym: “For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology, ”is a nonprofit that offers a proven approach to team-based innovation. The FIRST innovation framework has been refined over 25 years, with kids from 6 to 18, from 80 countries. Steeped in a culture of “gracious professionalism,” kids who participate on FIRST teams develop skills in science, technology, engineering, math, computer science, as well as marketing and business skills. The kids’ innovation accomplishments are celebrated as if they were rock stars or sports champions.


This month, Dean Kamen’s amazing global organization celebrates its 25th anniversary. FIRST is much more than a robotics competition for kids. It’s an innovation framework that has been evolved over a quarter of a century.


FIRST has literally changed the lives of the kids who have participated, as well as those of the parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, and sponsors who have helped them be successful.

Some of the key take-aways:

  • Make sure that people are working on intellectually hard problems.
  • Have them work in teams on the same problem.
  • Build-in real world constraints.
  • Instill a culture that encourages them to share and cooperate with other teams.
  • Provide real-world, real-time feedback.
  • Mix and match the teams so they are both partnering together and competing with one another.
  • Build in lots of iterations.


Twenty-Five Years of Kids’ Teams Innovating, Experimenting, & Competing with Robots They Design & Program

FIRST_Lego_Disaster_BlasterFIRST, the acronym “For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology,” is a not-for-profit organization founded by Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire kids to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Dean Kamen’s vision is that smart kids who excel in STEM should be celebrated in the same ways that we celebrate athletes or rock stars. For that reason, these competitions—both the regional play-offs and the world Championship—take place in sports arenas, complete with cheerleaders, referees in uniforms, professional announcers, and video coverage—filmed and broadcast over the NASA channel.

Each year, there’s a set of regional robotics competitions that culminate in an annual world Championship. This year’s Championship, which will be held at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO, April 23-26, 2014, will mark FIRST’s 25th anniversary. In 2013/2014, over 350,000 kids from 80 countries formed 32,600 teams and participated in regional robotics challenges, supported by 64,000 mentors and 66,000 other volunteers. There are also 3,500 companies, educational institutions, and individuals who are sponsoring the program this year—providing technology and mentoring. In addition, 350 institutions are providing $19 million in college scholarships in 2014. There are four separate leagues and challenges for different age groups, from Kindergarten to High School seniors...(more)


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